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Fundraising Database Cleanup: 6 Tips For Clearing the Clutter

Lisa Lane

As part of our rollout of Neon One, we will be hearing from industry celebrated experts in a wide variety of fields and expertise. Today’s educational spotlight on fundraising database cleanup tips comes from Lisa Lane at Nonprofit Garden, whose expertise is CRM Data and Web Management.

Think about the last time you tried to send out a major appeal using your fundraising database. Did you have blank addresses to delete? Did you waste valuable resources sending solicitation letters to individuals that haven’t donated? Did you inadvertently solicit the dead guy?

Just as your favorite car lasts longer with a little love and attention, so will the quality of your fundraising database. This year, resolve to devote a few hours each month or even once a quarter, to perform some basic database cleanup. Just follow these fundraising database cleanup tips, and you’ll see the rewards in more efficiency with each solicitation.

Database Cleanup Tip #1: Make primary addressees and primary salutations required fields

How often are these fields left blank in your fundraising database? If you don’t make these fields required on data entry, you’ll find that even with the best of intentions a few records are left blank. This becomes a serious problem the next time you try to run envelopes or any major mailing. Right when you are in the thick of the appeal, you have to stop and go into each record to clean up the fields. Or—worse yet—they end up on the mailroom floor because there is no Addressee or your donor gets a letter starting with Dear ____.

Database Cleanup Tip #2: Update your deceased / inactive / no valid address records

Do you keep these critical data fields updated correctly and accurately? We all know what “deceased” is, but what qualifies as “inactive” with your organization? If you don’t already have a shared definition of what moves a record into “inactive,” develop one and apply it consistently. Are you using the appropriate tools to record this status? Run a query to find the appropriate constituents and conduct a global change to update these records as needed. Then, make sure you do this every 3 to 6 months.

Database Cleanup Tip #3: Merge duplicate records

We know, we know… you hate cleaning up the duplicates because there’s just no simple way to globally merge duplicates without taking a carefully measured risk. The only way around this is to stay on top of your duplicate records and update them at least quarterly or semi-annually. There are some good tools out there now so if you think it is a lost cause, perhaps you need to invest in the tools and get the pile narrowed down once and for all! After going through this process a couple times, you and your staff will be much more aware of the importance of preventing duplicates. Get into the habit—set a quarterly date for merges and then host a mini celebration when you complete the task.

Database Cleanup Tip #4: Review and update your business rules

As software evolves, business rules have to evolve and default settings should evolve as well. Simplify, automate and create timesaving defaults in this part of your system configuration. For example: set your defaults to automatically manage updates to married couples when one is marked as deceased; implement a batch numbering or constituent numbering system that makes sense for your organization; or track actions and communications with supporters.

Database Cleanup Tip #5: Keep your data secure

Some things that might keep you up at night: Do employees who no longer work with your organization still have access? Can they somehow hack into our data? Do employees and executives who might not know anything about the software have “edit” rights, or worse yet—delete? Did you check and update your security settings with every new module and version upgrade (they can automatically change with just a simple upgrade!)? It’s a good thing to check every now and then.

Database Cleanup Tip #6: Create a system for query management

A few minutes of query management organization now can equal many hours of time saved in the future. Some best practices include: store your queries using a logical naming system such as “ProgramName_ MonthYear_Task” or add “ZZ” to queries or reports you don’t use but are afraid of deleting. Begin using the description fields to ensure future staff will understand why you created the query in the first place; and set a schedule for updating and checking any queries that support monthly reports.

So just like changing your oil every 5,000 miles, now you have a checklist of fundraising database cleanup tips to use every quarter. The quality of your fundraising database will run smoother, have less ‘congestion’ clogging up the process, and be simple to diagnose should a problem appear. This year resolve to devote a few hours each month or even once a quarter, to perform these basic maintenance steps. You’ll see the rewards in more efficiency, and maybe even have time to take a drive in your actual favorite car!

For additional reading, check out some of these sources:

Any other fundraising database cleanup tips that you swear by? Let us know in the comments!

If you or a member of your team has questions about how to better implement, support, and maintain data, please shoot an email to: lisa@nonprofitgarden.com. I’m happy to answer any questions regarding the content of this white paper as well as discuss your organization’s specific situation and challenges. If you are just selecting and implementing or thinking about converting your fundraising software to a new system, please give us a shout. We love helping you cultivate better donor relationships through automation and technology.

Photo: #WOCinTech Chat

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