Fundraising or FUNraising in the US of Europe

by Henk Wassenaar

protestors_mount_british_airways_plane_at_heathrow_airport_largeCrossing Borders? … OK. Borderless Direct Marketing? … No way!

If we look at Europe as a whole, how united are the ‘United States of Europe’ really? A great deal will still need to happen in the coming years before we can talk in terms of a united Europe. A single currency on its own does not unite a region. Cultural differences will always play a role. That is the creative challenge that demands a regional approach.

But what does that mean for a geographic approach to clients? Whether it involves consumer-oriented fundraising or a B2B market approach, traditional post or e-mail, the address is always the key. And that is the main challenge in using direct marketing in an international context. The target audience needs to be defined as clearly as possible, particularly when entering new markets. In defining an international target audience, it is not only important to determine how the new ‘client’ should be contacted, but also and most importantly: “Where is this person located and how do I acquire an accurate address?”

The ultimate aim of any DM campaign is to address the person we are contacting in the way they want to hear from us. That means: finding the right time to contact the right person at the right address!

And that last factor is far from simple when dealing with an international DM campaign!

The essentials

In order to set up, manage and maintain any database, but particularly an international one, it is necessary to take the following essential steps, in general terms:

– Inventory: What is already available, and what additional data would be desired

– Database analysis: Research the data structure and the record layout of the data already available

– Define database: Set up record layout, define categories, functions, etc.

– Data conversion: Structure the data in a uniform format, verify and correct addresses, eliminate duplicates

– Testing: Implement test procedures

– Set up database: Enter ‘clean’ data


Address files are available for the purpose of setting up an international database. In general, the addresses that the organization wants are selected from various international lists. Selections can be made by country or region, by language or country code, individuals and/or companies, and preferably also by officials. In short, all possible selections based on the available criteria. However, before selecting the relevant addresses, all the data should be converted into a uniform record structure.

Address soup

An address database compiled in France contains not only French addresses with their specific features, but also German, Dutch and Swedish addresses… and the database compiled for an international congress in Barcelona – entered using a Spanish keyboard (!) – not only contains Spanish addresses, but also French, German and Hungarian contacts.

The same addresses as in these databases could also occur in a database from Great Britain, entered using the British data entry equipment, which may well have deleted all the special markings (diacritics) from the Spanish, German, Swedish and Hungarian addresses.

In addition, it is common for all the addresses – sometimes from twenty or thirty different countries – to have been converted into the address notation of the country in which they were entered. For example, Germany doesn’t have counties, Ireland does not have a field for a postal code, and Cologne in French or English is written as Köln in German. And Vienna is called Wien in German…

Data hygiene

In order to create some semblance of order, extracting a clean international database from this address soup, it is absolutely vital for the records to undergo a number of actions. It is possible to use software specifically developed to process international addresses to ‘recognize’ the contents of the fields inside the address database records. This processing makes it possible to put the addresses into a uniform format correctly and to structure the addresses according to the specific rules for each country. The addresses can then be checked and corrected for each country and each address file.

Rules and regulations

It is also necessary to take into account the donor’s needs and preferences and the regulations, which may differ from country to country. It is also important not to lose sight of the fact that many countries have their own non-mailing files and suppression files. This includes the UK Mailing Preference Service, the Dutch Infofilter and the German DDV Robinson list.

After introducing uniformity in the address formats and removing redundancies from the files, the stage has arrived at which a ‘clean’ file of international addresses, categorized by country, is suitable for setting up the international database… the (data) base for international fundraising success!

Henk Wassenaar, Director of DMS Consultancy BV and chairman of the DDMA data quality committee.