Data Hygiene: Keeping Your Donor Database Clean

Imagine a monthly donor contributes to your organization’s latest campaign. When they signed up for your monthly giving program, they listed their address as “123 Smith Street.” However, when they gave their additional contribution, they listed their address as “123 Smith St.” 

At first, this may not seem like a very big deal. Both addresses are technically correct, so what’s the harm? The issue is that when this information is entered into your CRM, your system may create a new profile. If your CRM doesn’t alert you to duplicates, this may go unnoticed.

The result? You could forget to thank the supporter or accidentally solicit another donation at an inappropriate time. This can lead to upset or insulted donors, hurting your organization’s donor retention and reputation.

Unclean data is unusable data. Keep your donor database clean and organized to ensure you’re reaching out to the right people at the right time to build stronger relationships. 

This means you’ll need to re-examine your data at regular intervals. In this guide, we’ve laid out the activities you should complete to ensure your data is up to date and the timelines on which you should complete these activities.

Maintain the information you collect on a daily or weekly basis.

On a daily or weekly basis, your nonprofit needs to maintain the information you collect and save in your donor database. We recommend setting a dedicated time on your calendar either daily or weekly to conduct the updates that need to be done on a regular basis. 

Some of these regular maintenance activities include: 

  • Entering new data. You should record new information gained from interactions with donors, notes from meetings, and data from surveys and other engagement metrics in your CRM as soon as possible. 

  • Updating existing data. Your donors’ lives change on a regular basis. If you encounter these changes, go ahead and update your database to reflect them! For example, your donors might get married, change their names, move homes, get new jobs, etc. Updating records that are pulled by your billing software for recurring payments is particularly important to keep transactions running smoothly.

  • Backing up your database. Some donor database software automatically updates your organization’s data to the cloud or a hard drive. However, they don’t all do so! To avoid losing important information about your supporters and fundraising efforts in the event of a crash, be sure you back up this information as frequently as possible.

If you have integrated systems, some of these input and information updates will occur automatically. For example, if your donation forms integrate with your donor database, the information collected as people contribute to your cause will be automatically uploaded into your database. If not, you’ll need to manually pull files from your donation system and upload them to your CRM. 

Perform monthly maintenance activities. 

Complete the following activities on a monthly basis:

  • Identify and merge duplicate records. Remember the example we cited earlier on about a donor writing “St” instead of “Street” in their address? Simply formatting information in a different way or having a typo in a form can lead to an accidental duplication of a record in your CRM system. Regularly identify and merge these duplicate records to be sure all supporter information is kept in a single location, allowing you to reach out to them and build relationships based on the most accurate data. 

  • Run reports to update your team members. You keep more than donor data in your nonprofit CRM. Consider which metrics are most important to your organization, your supporters, and your team members. Generally, these are the metrics most directly tied to your organization’s goals. Pull reports regarding your progress and share them with your team members so they know if they’re achieving their goals.

  • Review fundraising campaign activity. Some of your more specific goals for your organization may involve your various fundraising campaigns and activities. Whether you’re hosting a capital campaign, monthly recurring gift campaign, peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, or a one-time event, keep your staff members informed about the progress of your various initiatives by reviewing your activity. This keeps them motivated and determined to reach those specific goals.

  • Review your LYBUNT and SYBUNT lists. LYBUNT and SYBUNT stand for “last year but unfortunately not this” and “some year but unfortunately not this,” referring to when donors contributed to your organization. These are the supporters you’re trying to re-engage now instead of later. Because the recapture rate for lapsed donors rests around 4%, these lists should be kept up to date to prevent losing supporters to begin with.

Performing monthly check-ins is not only important for your donor data hygiene, but it’s also the key to keeping your team updated with the latest information regarding your goals and initiatives. Block off a time on your calendar each month to report on necessary metrics and check in on your donor data. 

Revisit your strategic plan every three to six months.

Revisit your strategic plan. Don’t wait until the end of the year to determine if you’re hitting your goals. If you’re not performing to your expectations, you can make tweaks or changes to ensure that your campaign is a success by year’s end.

Every quarter or biannually at your nonprofit, there are several large-scale updates that you should make to ensure your fundraising team is working with the most accurate and descriptive information possible and that this information is being leveraged to its fullest potential to help your nonprofit achieve its goals. For example, donor data can help inform how much your development director should be raising.

Invest in advanced data services to build out the information in your donor database and create more complete pictures of your supporters. 

According to NPOInfo’s guide, there are three main types of appending services that you can use to get a more comprehensive picture of your supporters: 

  • Forward services add new information about your supporters based on what you already know. For example, from someone’s full name and address, you can find information such as their birthday or their phone number. 
  • Reverse services allow you to fill in the gaps in your current information based on what you have. For example, if you have a phone number for a supporter, you can reverse append information such as their full name and email address. 
  • Fractional appending allows your nonprofit to sort data to find the specific information you need and add it to your database. For instance, if you have a supporter’s email address and name, you can use that to compile a number of data points about that supporter, and choose what you need to add— such as their birthday. 

Gathering information is one of the most useful tools that you can use to reach your supporters and show them you care. You can further personalize communications with them to craft the most applicable messages and engage them further. 

Next, revisit your strategic plan to be sure you’re on track to hit your annual goals.

Make sure you’re on track to hit your nonprofit’s goals. If you wait until the end of the year to check out how well you kept to your strategic plan, it’s more challenging to identify where your campaigns and activities may have fallen short of expectations.

Update your database frequently.

On a frequent basis, you’ll need to update your database with some of the important changes that occur on a less frequent basis. For example, conduct updates such as: 

  • Run an NCOA update. On average, 10% of Americans move each year. This means you’ll need to update address information for an average of 10% of your donor database on an annual basis. Use the National Change of Address database to be sure you have the latest address information for your supporters.

Run a deceased suppression. If a donor hasn’t given in the last two years, the chances that they will return to your organization to give again is around 2.2%. Therefore, instead of using your energy to recapture these lost donors, focus on retaining the supporters you still have! Purge your donor list of those who haven’t donated to (or engaged with) your cause in more than three years, except for those who have volunteered or those who are board members. According to one study, 16% of donors lapsed because they passed away. A deceased suppression will alert you to anyone in your database that has passed away. Removing deceased individuals from your mailing list can save you the embarrassment of appearing insensitive to a surviving spouse or household member who is receiving mail addressed to their deceased loved one.

  • Update business partner information. While businesses don’t generally move or change quite as frequently as individuals, you should still make sure you have the updated information for each of your for-profit partners. Update your contact information and revisit their social responsibility policies to see if you can strengthen the partnership, providing and deriving additional value for both parties. 

On an annual basis, you should also review and update your organization’s policies for data management. Standardize the way that you enter information and abbreviate words (Street vs. St.), and assign who is responsible for making what updates. Then, train your staff members so they can make these updates. This reduces the potential for human error and ensures data is being used effectively. 

Data is only valuable for your nonprofit if it’s clean and tidy. Then, you can leverage it for segmentation, personalization, and to build relationships with donors. Use these best practices on the suggested timeline above to be sure your organization is effectively sorting, organizing, and updating the information you store about supporters. 

Published on Getting Attention

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