Do you have messy data?

When you’re a busy nonprofit, keeping up with delivering programs and communicating with donors, staying on top of your data often comes last on your to-do list. Turnover at your organization can make it even easier for data to become inconsistent and fall through the cracks.

If you’re considering moving to a new nonprofit CRM, you may be looking at your messy data with an increasing sense of dread. Where do you even start?

Even if you’re not changing CRMs, clean, healthy data is essential for your fundraising. 

Why Is Data Health So Important?

The usefulness of your entire system depends on trustworthy data. That sounds dramatic, but it’s true. If your data is incomplete or incorrect, it doesn’t matter if you’re running sophisticated automation and genius multichannel campaigns–you won’t be able to deliver the personalized, responsive experience you want to give your supporters. 

Responsive fundraising operates on good data. Bad data can sabotage something as simple as addressing your supporter by name. (“Dear Mgan, Thank you for your gift!” kind of ruins the “personal” part.) If you want to segment the audience at all, you need to know your data is correct. Otherwise, you run the risk of thanking people for things they didn’t do, not thanking them for things they did, and in general, sending confusing, haphazard communications. You wouldn’t want to send a long-time major donor a new welcome letter, right?

But the cost of bad data is more than a lack of responsiveness. Bad data can also cost you money, sometimes quite a bit. For example, if you’re pulling lists for direct mailings, every duplicate contact or bad address has a real cost. If you’re migrating to a new CRM where your costs are based on the number of records you have, you can end up paying for data you’ll never be able to use. 

And the cost keeps multiplying. What if you had sent your mailing to all good addresses, instead of wasting letters on bad addresses? You’d have had more opportunities to connect with donors and receive a gift. Instead, you’re not only missing out on the donors with incomplete or incorrect data, but you’re also missing out on anybody else you could have otherwise included in those spots. 

The longer you have bad data, the more money you lose. Suppose you lose a percentage of your records each year due to hygiene issues like bad contact information or no contact information. In that case, those records stay lost, along with the average donor value associated with them. If you lose 200 records a year, by five years in you’ll have lost 1000 records. It really adds up.

So bad data makes it difficult to be responsive to your donors, costs you money and fundraising opportunities, negatively impacts the return on your marketing and solicitations, and it only gets worse. What should you do about it?

Time to declutter your data. 

3 Ways to Declutter Your Data

To get started on your cleanup, you’ll want to watch out for three common culprits: duplicates, incorrect or incomplete records, and obsolete records. Resolving these issues will make your data much more trustworthy and easy to use. 

1. Merge Duplicate Records

Occasional duplicates are practically inevitable, but they’ll wreak havoc in your CRM when left unchecked. Are you sending someone three copies of your newsletter? Noticing that some of their giving history seems to be missing? Duplicate records can be to blame.

Your CRM should have tools to identify potential duplicate records. Make sure you know how to use them and establish a process for merging contacts. If you’re currently using spreadsheets, those also have deduping features. 

While you’re at it, look for what’s causing the duplicates. Is this an entry issue? Something that happens with imported records? Two people in two different departments operating in silos, both creating records? If you can identify the source of the duplicates, you can reduce them. 

2. Correct Incomplete or Incorrect Records

Lots of contact data has a shelf-life. People move, get married, get divorced, change their names, and, well, die. A record that used to be correct may not stay that way if you leave it for a long time. 

Running regular National Change of Address (NCOA) updates is one good way to head off bad addresses. In addition to NCOA updates, use the gift entry process to check for mistakes in spelling, missing contact information, and other errors. As you come across those “[email protected]” addresses, remove them. 

When you receive a bunch of returned mail or bounced emails, take the time to update your records, so you don’t keep sending to bad addresses. 

If you have an overwhelming number of incomplete or incorrect records, you may want to enlist a third-party service to help you audit and clean up your CRM.

3. Archive Obsolete Records

Even if the records themselves are complete and correct, there are a few kinds of contact records you don’t need to be active in your CRM long-term. Archiving obsolete contacts keeps them off your lists and out of your reports while preserving the record for posterity, should you need it. 

People With Whom You Have No Relationship:  Sometimes, people who aren’t supporters wind up in your CRM. Maybe you got their name through a list, or by some other means—but they’ve never given, never volunteered, and are not responding to your communication. At some point, you need to let them go. Part of being responsive is recognizing when people aren’t interested, and years of solicitation with no gift are a clear signal. Archive those contacts. 

Lapsed Donors: Experts debate at what point a “lapsed” donor becomes “not really a donor anymore,” but if someone hasn’t given in three years, and you’ve tried to reengage without any response, it doesn’t make sense to keep sending them communications.

Deceased Donors: If a donor has passed away, you’ll need to note that in your CRM, so that you no longer solicit them. Due to planned giving and recognition, you’ll want to keep them in your CRM, especially if their partner or family members continue to give. If both partners have passed away, go ahead and archive the contact after you’ve processed any tribute or planned gifts. 

3 Practices To Keep Your Data Clean

Just like you can’t wash the dishes once and for all, cleaning up your data is an ongoing maintenance and management process. To keep your data clean, you’ll need to be intentional about creating a data entry process, managing roles, and keeping a regular maintenance schedule.

1. Standardize Data Entry

No matter how clean you get your CRM, if everyone is entering data in a different way, you’ll quickly be back to square one. Consistency is even more important than finding the best, most perfect data entry process. 

How does data enter the CRM? Is it entered manually or is it imported? Both? Consider your entire nonprofit technology ecosystem to get a sense of where data is entering your system.

Clarify your process for data entry. Who enters data? How is each field used? Which fields cannot be left blank? Make decisions and stick to them. Again, perfection is less important than being consistent. 

Check to make sure you understand your CRM’s data health tools. What processes are in place to avoid duplicates? Can you review data on import? What is the process for merging duplicates, and how do staff members decide to do it?

Document each step of data entry, to make sure everyone is on the same page and the process is easy to follow. 

2. Choose a Data Leader

Who is in charge of your data? If your organization has a database administrator, this question is easy to answer. If not, identify a member of your team who will be responsible for your data. They will define and lay out your data policy and procedures, but data cleanliness and timeliness remain everyone’s responsibility. 

3. Schedule Data Maintenance

Don’t leave data hygiene until you’re in a mess; schedule regular data health checkups. Decide when you’ll run your NCOA updates and put them on the calendar. Decide on intervals for checking for duplicates. The more frequently you manage the health of your data, the less likely you’ll need to do another major cleanup. 

You Can Do It!

If you’re getting your data in order for a migration to a new CRM, you may feel overwhelmed. 

“Data migration can be a scary thing, especially if you have messy data. Luckily for you, we have a team of experienced partners who have helped out many of our customers think through their data cleanup and we’d be happy to connect you with one of them,” says Stephen Shieh, Director of Customer Onboarding at Virtuous. “The great news about cleaning up your data prior to migration is that you’ll know your data inside and out by that time and shouldn’t be surprised by anything in the migration.” 

How can Virtuous partner with you to get the most out of your data?
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