When planning a fundraiser for your nonprofit or university, your donor database shouldn’t hold you back. But all too often, a dirty database, full of misplaced, incomplete, duplicate, ambiguous, or inconsistent data, limits an organization’s ability to properly fundraise and fulfill its mission. For many, it can feel like trying to build a house on quicksand
For instance, if your donor database contains old contact information, you aren’t even able to get in touch with those donors, and certainly not craft a call to action that accurately appeals to their current interests and concerns. According to AccuData’s guide to data hygiene, this kind of bad, misleading data can cost organizations up to 12% of their annual revenue.
At its core, data hygiene is simply the practice of cleaning your database, removing these inaccurate, harmful elements and adding useful ones, such as updated addresses and phone numbers. In this guide, you’ll learn data hygiene basics, including how to:
Audit your donor database.
Correct or suppress in accurate data.
Append with third-party data.
Build standard collection and maintenance processes.
Once you develop and implement good data hygiene habits, you can feel confident leveraging your data with segmentation, profiling, and personalization strategies to amplify your fundraising campaigns. Let’s dive in!
1. Audit your donor database.
Many nonprofits rely on a donor database to make fundraising decisions, contact prospective supporters, and track and report on donations.
However, your donor database likely has significant errors that skew your fundraising decisions. For example, missing geographic data on many of your donors might mean that you’re mistargeting potential local donors with a pitch meant for those abroad. Alternatively, duplicate entries may lead you to accidentally send a donor the same donation request message repeatedly, alienating them from your cause.
An audit is intended to reveal where you need to focus your cleaning efforts and how intensive those efforts will need to be. Therefore, the first step to good data hygiene should involve a deep dive into your database’s health. As you explore your database, answer the following questions:
What data points are necessary to achieve your goals?
What areas of your database contain the most inaccuracies?
Are there inconsistencies in how you’ve input names and addresses?
Are families grouped together under one record?
What missing data points should you be collecting?
After this audit, you should have a better sense of where your data currently stands. As a result, you can create an accurate timeline for the hygiene process and better focus your energy and attention on the areas that need the most cleaning.
2. Correct or suppress inaccurate data.
After you’ve conducted your audit, it’s time to tackle the root of the problem: your dirty data. Unfortunately, there’s not just one type of dirty data to look for. Just as an error can be introduced in many ways, it can also take many forms. However, there are a handful of common mistakes you should focus on.
Address the following errors in your database:
Duplicate data. Was the donor accidentally recorded twice? Be on the lookout for duplicates that contain slightly incorrect information.
Inconsistent data. Are addresses, numbers, and titles all standardized? Nonstandard data can eventually result in duplicate entries.
Non-verifiable and outdated data. Has the donor moved, married, or changed contact information that results in your communications bouncing?
Missing data. Does the entry contain any missing fields, such as phone number or contact preference, that would help you better reach or understand your donor?
In addition to correcting these errors, you should also plan to suppress entries for deceased individuals, incarcerated individuals, and minors, as well as those on Do Not Mail and Do Not Call listings. Soliciting donations from these populations rarely results in a positive outcome and, in certain circumstances, can result in fines and negative publicity.
While you may be eager to complete this process as quickly as possible, take your time reviewing each entry. Spending time organizing and correcting data upfront will pay dividends for your nonprofit down the line.
3. Append with third-party data.
When you find missing data—especially if it’s missing contact information—it can feel like an impossible task to fill it. How do you reach someone to ask for their contact information when you don’t have their contact information in the first place?
Third-party data appends offer one solution to address missing and outdated donor information. With data appends, your nonprofit buys external data to supplement your existing records. Often, these enhancements can be accomplished with as much as a donor’s name or phone number.
But appends can also give you a better sense of your donor personas—who they are, what appeals to them, their financial situation, and why they support your organization. For example, a nonprofit could append financial and wealth data to screen for and target the wealthiest, most philanthropic donors. Or, you might append employer data to take advantage of matching gifts offered by your donors’ employers.
While data hygiene often focuses on removing bad data, appends are also a critical part of the equation. With this in mind, plan to append data points that clarify your existing data and help you reach your target donors more efficiently and effectively.
4. Build standard collection and maintenance processes.
Completing a thorough data cleaning feels pretty good, and it will show in your fundraising in the days, weeks, and months to come.
However, if you’re doing your job well, you’re constantly collecting and inputting new information—from your donation forms to volunteer surveys. Thus, you need to take steps to continuously keep your database clean. If you don’t, all your efforts will be for naught, and your database’s cleanliness will gradually backslide to where you were before. Nobody wants that.
How do you prevent this backslide? Take these three steps for best results:
Determine exactly what data you’ll house and what data you won’t. While it might seem like the more data the merrier, at a certain point, excess data can result in a convoluted database. Thus, decide what data is necessary to accomplish your fundraising and other programmatic goals and collect only that.
Develop a standard process for collecting, entering, and maintaining data. Detail the procedure for how a new data point is entered, create rules for handling future errors, and streamline public-facing forms with accessible design, clear instructions, and conditional logic.
Train new and existing staff. Ensure everyone who touches your organization's data is trained on your data management procedures and document any updates in an accessible format. Staff shouldn’t have to dig through files to know how to input and store data!
Additionally, always schedule regular system back-ups to circumvent the risk of a major system malfunction. Mistakes happen, especially when you have a large team, and you shouldn’t have to worry about being able to return your database to a stable state.
Wrapping Up: Bonus Tip
It doesn't matter if you're a team of one or one hundred: You shouldn't be expected to clean and maintain your donor database alone. That's where data hygiene experts and marketing consultants come in.
Because they are trained and experienced in data management, these experts can help make the most of your organization’s data, such as developing data hygiene processes, designing a marketing strategy, optimizing online donation pages, and generating new leads.
AccuData’s guide to marketing analytics companies recommends choosing a data consultant who offers comprehensive services, including data hygiene and processing, customer profiling and predictive analytics, prospect acquisition, digital marketing, and custom database development and management.
Whether utilizing a team of data experts or going at it alone, practicing good data hygiene can help your nonprofit surpass its fundraising goals. Good luck!
Guest Author: Gabrielle Perham
MBA, Director of Marketing
Gabrielle is the Director of Marketing for AccuData Integrated Marketing. She joined the organization in 2017 and possesses more than 15 years of experience in strategic marketing, branding, communications, and digital marketing. She earned a B.S. in Marketing and an M.B.A in Marketing Management from the University of Tampa.