Data is only your most important asset (after people, of course!) if it’s clean, consistent, accurate and complete.  If data is not maintained to these standards, any reporting or analytics done on top of it will be less than reliable.  We offer five tips below for keeping your data in top-notch condition so it forms a stable and reliable foundation for your fundraising and decision-making success.

  1. Know what data you intend to collect and enter into your DMS or CRM  This is particularly relevant as you recognize new data points that you want to collect, such as cell phone numbers, marital status, or date of birth.  These new data points should be tied to organizational goals.  For instance, if you have a goal to start a planned giving program, and have little DOB or age data, your strategy should include the collection of DOB’s.  You may need to edit all response mechanisms used in direct response and all web forms used in online engagement to include DOB as an optional or required field.  You may also want to budget for a DOB overlay to get more of this data populated as quickly as possible.  Whatever your tactics, specify in a data policies, procedures and style manual how the data should be entered, e.g., 3-14-72 or March 14, 1972.
     
  2. Limit access to your database to a need-only basis
    Your database should only be accessed by people who need to access it in order to do their job, both for security purposes and to preserve database integrity. Limit the ability to edit data to the few who will be held accountable for its accuracy.  All those with editing capability should be periodically trained in data entry procedures, and should have access to data policies, procedures and style manuals.
     
  3. Back up your DMS on a regular basis
    Your DMS should be backed up on a regular basis (preferably nightly) and the backup routines must be rigorous and tested periodically.  Every organization should test the restoration of their data from their backup to be absolutely sure the system is operating successfully and will serve them when needed.
     
  4. Audit your data periodically to test for:
    1. Completeness: Do all records contain the primary and essential information?  How many are un-solicitable for bad addresses? Is this number growing or shrinking?
    2. Consistency: Are data points entered in the same format?  Are they entered in the same fields in each record?  Are there spelling errors?
    3. Accuracy: Is the information included in each record correct? Are there spelling errors?
      Periodic audits will reveal where training needs to be implemented or improved, where resources need to be deployed to combat inconsistent or missing data and will provide key measures against which to measure progress.
       
  5. Codify data appropriately to ensure that it is useful
    Having thoughtful codes that can be used to segment and sub-segment the constituent population is essential to make the information you are collecting both reportable and queryable.  Having too few codes will prevent you from gleaning all the insight the data has to share; having too many codes will make the results of any analysis too granular and therefore unactionable.

Data is the essential ingredient all nonprofit fundraising programs are built on.  Be sure you are building on a firm foundation by taking the steps necessary to ensure your data is accurate, complete and consistent.  For more tips on data-driven fundraising, plus worksheets and more, check out our Growing Individual Gifts: An Analytical Approach to Data-Driven Success workbook.

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