Spring cleaning means out with the old and in with the new. Your nonprofit should take advantage of this time to move away from poor data hygiene practices and introduce new data procedures that keep your database healthy and useful.
Disorganized data isn’t just confusing to look at—it can also cost your organization time and resources. You may accidentally craft plans around inaccurate information or inadvertently create a poor donor experience based on outdated data.
You need to be able to rely on your data to make informed decisions and strategic goals for your campaigns and appeals. Whether you’re planning your next online fundraising campaign or developing a major donor outreach strategy, referencing clean data allows you to be confident in your decisions.
We’ll review these four tips to help you develop a better data hygiene strategy:
- Audit and clean your database regularly.
- Enrich your data as needed.
- Establish consistent data entry procedures.
- Stop unnecessary data from clogging your database.
Establishing a clear data hygiene strategy now can help you avoid major data cleanups in the future. By maintaining good data habits all year round, you can avoid stressful spring cleaning situations and plan more successful campaigns.
1. Audit and clean your database regularly.
The first step in improving your data hygiene is to understand where your nonprofit currently stands.
Your nonprofit likely uses a donor management system to store and track supporter information. Audit your donor database regularly to identify irregularities, gaps, and other areas for improvement.
AccuData’s data hygiene guide recommends taking the following measures:
- Identify and eliminate inaccurate or duplicate data. Inaccurate information, whether name misspellings or incorrect contact information, should be eliminated or updated to avoid future confusion. On the other hand, duplicate data can sometimes result from data being entered in slightly different ways. Identify duplicate entries, combine them as needed, and remove the unnecessary copies.
- Analyze outdated data and determine whether it’s necessary to continue storing that information. Do you need to continue storing donors’ fax information or their Myspace usernames? Probably not. Identify any outdated information in your database and consider its usefulness for your future campaigns and appeals.
- Identify gaps in your database. Are some of your donor records lacking important information, such as donors’ email addresses or phone numbers? Identify missing data and determine whether it would be useful to add this information to your records.
After your initial audit and cleanup, establish an ongoing data hygiene process. Create a maintenance schedule by determining how frequently you will refresh your data, whether monthly, quarterly, or some other frequency. Assign staff members to specific tasks within the process and plan regular check-ins to promote accountability.
2. Enrich your data as needed.
As mentioned, you might identify gaps in your data during the auditing process. These gaps are opportunities to get to know your supporters better, allowing you to plan campaigns and appeals that reach them more effectively.
You can enrich your data and add missing information by taking the following steps:
- Look for a donor database that conducts automatic data updates. For example, Bloomerang’s donor database runs nightly National Change of Address (NCOA) updates so you can stay updated on donors’ home address information. Finding a database with automatic updates means your team won’t have to spend time manually researching and refreshing these data points.
- Consider whether you may benefit from third-party data appends. Data appending is the process of adding data to your database from external sources. You can append missing information such as donors’ email addresses, phone numbers, employer names, and social media profiles. This can be helpful if you’d like to get in touch with donors over a new platform or better understand their giving potential.
- Gather additional insight through donor satisfaction surveys. You may have certain things you’d like to learn about your donors that you can’t gather from appends or automatic updates. For instance, you may want to understand your donors’ preferred communication methods or frequency. Or, you might want to know whether they’d be interested in additional payment methods, like cryptocurrency or Venmo. You can gather this additional information by sending donor surveys and syncing the results into your database.
Let’s review an example that illustrates the benefits of enriching your data. Perhaps you want to identify more major donor prospects to jumpstart your major gift fundraising efforts. You can conduct wealth screening by appending your current data with employment and financial information to determine who your top prospects are. This data could include business affiliations and stock and real estate ownership.
Data appends help you build a more complete picture of your donor base, empowering you to identify top prospects and connect with donors on a more personal level.
3. Establish consistent data entry procedures.
Consistency is essential to clean data. Creating standard data policies helps avoid duplicated data in the future.
Develop a database manual for managing donor data. Include guidelines for inputting the following data types into your database:
- Addresses: Will you use the full word “street” or the abbreviation “St.”? Will you use the five-digit ZIP code or the ZIP+4 code?
- Name suffixes: Will you input “Junior” or “Jr.”? Will you spell Ph.D. with periods or without?
- Phone numbers: Will you use hyphens or parentheses around the area code for phone numbers?
These considerations might seem nit-picky, but creating guidelines for your team to follow will save plenty of data headaches down the road.
4. Stop unnecessary data from clogging your database.
The best way to avoid unnecessary data clutter is to stop collecting the information in the first place.
For example, consider eliminating unnecessary questions from your online donation page. This creates a more streamlined, faster giving process for donors and helps your team avoid having unnecessary data overwhelming your system.
Identify the information that is most essential to your internal records, and eliminate any questions that lead to superfluous data.
Along with your online donation page, review other data sources like your events, direct mail, donor meetings, and phone calls. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you getting the data you need from these sources?
- Are you getting too much unnecessary data from any source?
- Are your staff members properly trained on what type of data they should be collecting from these sources and how they should be inputting it?
Meet with your nonprofit’s team to review your data priorities and database manual to ensure everyone knows the data types that are most important for your strategies and how to input this information into your database.
With these tips, your nonprofit should be able to create an effective data hygiene strategy this spring that serves your organization throughout the year. Clean data brings all kinds of benefits, from facilitating improved donor engagement to allowing you to plan more successful fundraising appeals. The effort you put into cleaning your database will pay off in the long run, so start your spring cleaning ASAP!