How to Keep Your Nonprofit’s Data Clean and Ready to Use: 6 Tips

Your nonprofit’s data is a valuable asset. It powers your fundraising efforts, drives donor and other constituent communications, and feeds your reports. It can also help you uncover trends to improve your fundraising and marketing activities.

Data should be a key aspect of your nonprofit’s technology strategy. No matter how powerful your customer relationship management (CRM), marketing, or fundraising software might be, it won’t work as well as it should – and your fundraising and marketing efforts won’t be as effective – if you have duplicate, outdated, and missing data.

Of course, maintaining high-quality data health and hygiene isn’t a one-and-done activity. It takes ongoing work. But once you make it part of your organization’s routine, it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming challenge to maintain.


Tips for keeping your nonprofit’s data clean

By regularly following some data hygiene best practices, you can make sure that you have more complete and accurate data to use in your fundraising and marketing efforts.

Here are six ways to help keep your nonprofit’s data clean and ready to use:

1. Consider who’s using the data (and why).

There are different needs for different information across your nonprofit. Think about each role in your organization. Write down what information they need and why they need it. This will help you to understand which data points:

  • Are important to collect
  • Should be kept updated
  • Must be easily accessible

Here are some roles to consider:

  • Development team: This team must track donor cultivation. They need to stay current on donor interactions and stewardship, know when they have a new prospective donor, and be able to show their progress toward fundraising goals.
  • Marketing team: No one wants to donate, volunteer, or support a cause in one way and then receive communications or solicitations for something irrelevant. They don’t want to see a lot of paper mail if they prefer communicating electronically. Your constituents want communications at the ideal frequency, about topics that interest them, through their preferred communications channels. They also want accurate receipts and communications. That’s why it’s vitally important for your marketing team to track information such as:
    • How constituents are involved with your organization
    • How often they’re involved
    • How much time or money they’ve given
    • What prompted them to give or participate
  • Board members: Board members want to see that their investment of time and dollars is worthwhile. So, they generally want to see the bottom line. For instance, they often find it useful to receive visual reports showing key performance metrics that represent goals and the organization’s progress toward reaching those goals.

2. Find the right frequency for data cleansing.

Deduplicating contact and account records is a must for keeping your data clean. It’s also important to run data integrity queries for anything from looking for missing data points to looking for email addresses with no @ sign or ZIP codes not in the five + four format. The frequency with which you update your nonprofit’s data depends on your organization’s needs. You’ll want to deduplicate records at least once a week to keep your data tidy run data integrity queries frequently enough that they don’t pile up and become overwhelming. On the flipside, there’s no need to run them so often that there are only a few records to update and it’s not worth your time. Here are some steps to get you started with data integrity queries:

  • Run data integrity queries each week. Move to every two weeks, then once per month, etc., until you find the right frequency for your organization.
  • Run one-off data integrity queries as needed. For example, if you have an important direct mailing going out, you might run a data integrity query before pulling the mailing list to make sure your list is as clean as possible.

3. Delete or update attributes and queries.

Another good data cleansing practice is to periodically review your database, or data that’s in spreadsheet/tabular form, and make a list of any incorrect attributes, or attributes that are no longer being used. Then, use a query to find and delete or update these attributes from constituent records. These attributes might range from checkboxes or yes/no fields to values within a picklist (dropdown) field. Provide definitions of attributes and proper staff training to help ensure fields and values within fields are being used accurately within your organization.

Also, be sure to periodically review your data query file. Some things to look for:

  • Queries that have not been run in the past 12 months. Notify the owner; ask if the queries can be removed or placed in an archive folder.
  • Ad hoc queries that may be inaccurate due to the way they are built.
  • Any fundamentally flawed queries.

Repeat this data query file review exercise with reports and data exports.

4. Update your database policies and procedures.

If you don’t already have one, be sure to have a database policies and procedures document in place. Make sure that the document includes consistent naming standards for things like campaigns, events, queries, and exports to make searching and reporting easier and more accurate.

Make reviewing your database policies and procedures document a part of your employee onboarding checklist to ensure your entire staff knows the standards.Plan to review your policies and procedures at least once each year to make sure the information is still accurate. Any time you change a policy or procedure, be sure to notify the entire organization. Let everyone know the details of what has been changed and why it’s been modified. This will help them understand the importance of the change and its impact on the organization.

5. Keep staff members well educated.

As you run data integrity queries, be on the lookout for consistent data integrity issues. For example, if your database allows for specific designation between constituents and organizations, are staff members creating organizations as constituents and vice versa?Such issues might be a signal that you need to re-train your staff on your database policies and procedures. You might also need to update data entry procedures in your database policies and procedures document to ensure directions are clear and correct.

6. Revisit your staff onboarding checklist.

Be sure to include a comprehensive checklist in your employee onboarding process to ensure the security of your data and make sure new staff members have the tools they need to do their jobs. A few items to include in the checklist:

  • Review the database policies and procedures document with new staff members.
  • Determine what data permissions/access new employees need to do their jobs.
  • Provide new employees with usernames and passwords for system and program access.

Be sure to also have a process in place to remove staff members from your systems when they leave your organization.

Ensuring your nonprofit’s data is clean, accurate, and ready to use will help your organization  optimize your marketing, fundraising campaigns, and technology. By putting the tips in this article to work, you’ll be well on your way to keeping your data in top shape.

Author: Mark Becker

Mark founded Cathexis Partners in 2008, providing technical and consultative services to nonprofits of all sizes and types. He previously served as director of IT consulting at a fundraising event production company focused on nonprofits. For more than 20 years, Mark has supported hundreds of nonprofit online fundraising efforts.

Wrapping Up

Learn more about data management and overall nonprofit management best practices below: