Donor data hygiene: Can we keep it clean?

Donor data hygiene: Can we keep it clean?

In the opening interview scene of the Pixar movie The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible expresses the frustration of being a super hero.  “No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get in jeopardy again.  Sometimes I just want it to STAY SAVED, you know, for a little bit.  I feel like the maid … I just cleaned up this mess … can we keep it clean for TEN MINUTES?”

With that closing rhetorical question, Mr. Incredible could have been talking about your donor data.  And in case you haven’t guessed, the answer to the question is “no”.  Discouraged?  Don’t be.

Why can’t you keep your donor data clean?

Two simple reasons.

First, your data wasn’t to begin with.  Legacy data is old and outdated.  Your organization has policies and training to support data entry, but your data has many sources, a mix of staff and volunteers entering it, and even those automated systems where your donors are entering their own information are filled with errors and omissions.datainputprocess

And the second reason why donor data hygiene is such a challenge: people’s lives change.  We move, change jobs, get a new cell phone number, get a new email address, add a Facebook account, drop it for Twitter, get married/divorced, have kids and send some of them to college, incur life-changing illnesses, change jobs again, move again, and so on.

Frustrated?   How did we get so data dependent?

According to the US Census, 12% to 13% of all households change residences every year.   The Bureau of Labor and Statistics tells us that the average person will hold 11 jobs from the ages of 18 to 44.  Just how fast is your data becoming out of date?

Bad, outdated, incomplete data wastes your organization’s time and money.  And most nonprofits don’t have a super hero to clean up their data messes.

What to do? 

The answer seems simple enough:  manage your data before it is managing you.

Easier said than done.

Where to start? 

With a plan.

Budget time and resources to better manage your donor data.  Who in your organization is responsible for donor data hygiene or data quality?  Don’t know?  Then it is time to find out.  If you need data expertise, there are plenty of services and consultants in the market.

How and when do you use your data?  One customer of ours accessed full donor data files 14 times a year, but had not cleaned their donor database in years?  Do you have quarterly mailings?  Monthly newsletters?  Event invitations?  Annual campaigns?  Do you tweet?  How often do your development officers call upon prospects?

Start simple.  Much of your organization’s work is calendar driven.

  • When do you use your data, and for what purpose?
  • What is the medium?
  • What are your response rates?

This exercise can help you begin to map the gaps in your data, the gaps in the calendar, and windows of opportunity to make improvements.

Understanding how you use your data is half the battle.  The other half is understanding what resources are available to help you to make your data cleaner, richer and better able to work for you.

At a minimum, try this simple approach to better data in 30 days. Consultants and data services can help.  CRM software typically includes basic data cleaning tools, although you scrub one record at a time.  Finally, never underestimate the value of mailing or emailing your contacts and expressly asking them to help you by updating their information.

  1. Consolidate duplicate records
  2. Update addresses
  3. Add phone numbers and emails – and ask your donors how they would like to be contacted in the future
  4. Update employment information
  5. Purge old contacts

There’s more that you can do, but this would be a great start, wouldn’t it?

Remember, donor data – like the world that Mr. Incredible protects – won’t clean itself.  And once clean, it doesn’t stay clean.  The good news is that you can commit to cleaner data in order to make your organizations more successful.  And that commitment can start today.

About Gary Carr

Gary is the founder and president of Third Sector Labs. With more than 20 years of experience delivering software and data solutions to a wide variety of clients, Gary turned his attention to the overwhelming problem of data. Third Sector Labs is committed to making sense of data for the nonprofit industry.

The process of identifying, correcting, and/or removing corrupt, inaccurate or outdated records from a database
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