Dirty data be gone! 5 tips to help keep your clean database resolution
Liz Rejman, CFRE

It’s the New Year. A time of new routines, new possibilities. Maybe this is the year you finally join the gym, journal daily or get your finances in order.

What about your database? When was the last time you developed some New Year’s resolutions related to your donor data so that data pulls, analysis and reporting didn’t require extra manual manipulation? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to run a mailing list or generate a report knowing that the information could immediately be sent to the mail house or presented to your senior leadership team? It is possible. It just requires some vigilance with key data points.

Like a New Year’s resolution, consider breaking down the goal of clean data into manageable tasks. Divide and conquer the inconsistencies, the missing or dirty data. Here is a checklist to help you get started on your New Year’s resolution of a efficient database:

  1. Check for duplicate records.
    There is nothing more inefficient than sending the same communication multiple times to the same person. Once you have done an initial deletion of your duplicates in your database, develop a schedule to check for duplicate records depending on how many new records are created and when.
  2. Cross reference organizational contacts.
    Does the person that you send your mailings to really still work at Company ABC? Are they still the best person to connect with about your organization? A simple search on LinkedIn will confirm a person’s employment at an organization and can minimize the number of mailings that end up being sent to former employees of your organizational donors.
  3. Search for lost donors.
    People and businesses move. Take some time to try and find a new mailing address for a donor so that you can reconnect with them.
  4. Review codes for consistency and redundancy.
    There is nothing more frustrating than having three codes within a field for the same piece of data. For example, have you tried to pull a business phone number for donors only to learn that for some the field is labelled ‘Business Number’, while others have the field labelled as simply ‘Business’ or ‘Biz Number’? Decide on the label and change the records to all be the same.

    Are you coding the same piece of data in multiple fields within a person’s record? For example if mail for a donor is returned (thus the donor has no valid mailing address in your database), do you code this piece of information in one field or in a few different places? Marking the same piece of data in multiple places is a duplication of effort and inefficient. Decide where you will code key pieces of information. Be consistent with that coding in order to easily include or exclude the data when pulling a mailing list or generating a report.

  5. Bring your dark data into the light.
    A big part of fundraising is events: golf tournaments, 5k fun runs and fall galas. Often the events team rely on Excel spreadsheets to track registrants, foursomes and table seating configurations.

    Make a plan to record in your database registrant information. Track which foursome Mr. Major Gift Prospect golf’s with each year or which power couple does Brenda Board Member have seated at her table for your gala. Events are an incredible source of valuable information on connections – both business and personal. Are you recording these valuable connections into your database?

Consistent data is a big job. Consider enlisting a group of database power users on your team to divide and conquer the inconsistencies, the missing, dirty or dark data. Your efforts will be rewarded with accurate data that you can efficiently and confidently use for your fundraising efforts.

A variation of this article was first published March 2015 in Hilborn e-news. http://www.charityinfo.ca/articles/dirty-data-be-gone