6 Tips for Keeping Your Nonprofit’s Donor Data Clean and Ready to Use
When you think about your nonprofit’s technology strategy, donor data might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But maybe it should.
Consider this: Data powers your fundraising efforts, drives your donor communications, and feeds your reports. So, no matter how powerful your fundraising and marketing software might be, it won’t work as well as it should if you have outdated, duplicate and/or missing donor data.
Of course, maintaining a high level of data health and hygiene might seem like a tall order. And it does take ongoing work. But it doesn’t have to be a daunting challenge.
Using a few proven best practices, you can have more complete, accurate, and clean data to power your fundraising and marketing efforts. Here are six ways to help keep your donor data clean and ready to put to work.
1. Think About Who Needs What Data and Why
Various people in your organization have different needs for different information. Keep track of what information each role in your organization needs to see and for what purpose. This will help you to understand which data points are important to collect, and keep them updated and easily accessible. For example:
- Board members. They are often numbers people. They typically want to see that their investment of time and dollars is generating results, so want the bottom line. For instance, they usually do well with visual reports showing key performance metrics, goals and the organization’s progress toward reaching those goals.
- Development team. Fundraisers need to be able to track their donors. They need to stay current on donor interactions and stewardship, and know when they have a new prospective donor. They also need to be able to demonstrate that they’re working toward fundraising goals.
- Donors. They want to be spoken to accurately about topics of interest and in their preferred method of communication. No donor wants to donate to a specific cause and then receive solicitations for something irrelevant or via paper mail if they prefer communicating electronically. They also want accurate receipts and communications. That’s why it’s critical to track information, such as where the donor is giving, how they’re giving, how much they’ve given and what prompted them to give.
2. Decide How Often to Clean Your Data
It’s important to run data integrity queries (DIQs) in your fundraising software. A DIQ can be anything from queries looking for missing data points to queries looking for email addresses with no “@” sign or incorrectly formatted ZIP codes.
You should run DIQs frequently enough that they don’t pile up and become overwhelming, but not so often where there are only a few records to update and it’s not worth the time. How often you update your data will depend on your specific organization’s needs. Start by running DIQs each week and reduce the frequency until you find the right one for your organization.
You might also want to run one-off DIQs. For example, if you have a large or important direct mailing going out, you might run a DIQ before pulling the mailing list to ensure you have the most current information possible.
3. Review Your Data Tables, Queries, Reports and Exports
Be sure to periodically review your data tables (data in spreadsheet/tabular form) and inactivate any incorrect table entries. Then use a query to find and delete these table entries from constituent records so they can ultimately be deleted from the tables.
Periodically review your data query file, too. Look for global changes that are more than 30 days old and notify the owner of the file to remove the changes (or follow your organization’s policy on this). You should also review queries to see if you have any that have not been run in the past 12 months and notify the owner; ask if the queries should be removed or maybe put in an archive folder. Repeat this exercise with reports and exports.
4. Update Your Database Policies
Plan to review your policies and procedures at least once each year to make sure the information is still accurate. Be sure that your policies and procedures include consistent naming standards for things like campaigns, events, queries and exports to make searching and reporting easier and more accurate.
Any time you change a policy or procedure, be sure to notify the entire organization. Let them know the details of what has been changed and why it’s been modified. This will help them understand the importance of the change and its impact on the organization.
5. Keep Staff Members Well-Educated
You might find that as you run DIQs, you see consistent data integrity issues. Those issues are a signal that you might need to re-train your database administration staff on policies. You might also need to update your data entry procedures manual to ensure directions are clear and correct.
6. Revisit Your Staff Onboarding Checklist
As staff members join your organization, be sure to include a comprehensive checklist in your onboarding process to ensure the security of your data and make sure new staff members have the tools they need to do their jobs. A few items to consider for the checklist:
- Determine what data permissions/access they’ll need to do their jobs, and set them up in the system.
- Provide them with usernames and passwords for system and program access.
- Schedule a training session with them to go over policies and procedures.
On the flipside, be sure to have a process in place to remove staff members from your systems when they leave your organization.
Having donor data that’s clean, accurate, and ready to use is critical to getting the most out of your fundraising and marketing technology and campaigns. These tips will help you to keep your donor data in tip-top shape.
Mark founded Cathexis Partners in 2008 to help nonprofit organizations get the most from their existing technology tools, implement new technology to address gaps and find the best overall approach to using technology to support their missions. He previously served as director of IT consulting at a fundraising event production company focused on nonprofits.
Mark also serves on the editorial advisory board for NonProfit PRO, where he contributes monthly to his blog, “Nonprofit Tech Matters.”