Taming the Databeast: How to Keep Your Information Systems Clean

David Hoyt Senior Consultant

David Hoyt , Senior Consultant

Having reliable and current data gives your nonprofit organization a competitive advantage over others that may be competing for donor dollars.

How? Very often, the difference between getting a meeting or not comes down to having the right contact information. Knowing who to meet with requires accuracy in your donor record and gift attribution. And conducting a successful meeting depends on having relevant information about your donor ready at hand.

All these data points come together in your organization’s database. Follow a few simple data hygiene rules to ensure that your organization is maximizing its opportunities by maintaining clean and accurate records:

  • Garbage in, garbage out: The first consideration in database cleanliness is access. Garbage in can be prevented by limiting access to those who need it to perform their job duties, and only providing them the depth of access they need and can handle. Most modern database and CRM systems have an array of tools, such as user-specific permission sets, that make it easy to align data needs with data access. It’s critical to think through who has access to what. Everyone who has access should be fully trained in all relevant functions and records.
  • An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: Databases can be extremely complicated, making mistakes all the more likely—and costly. For instance, Salesforce charges a flat fee of $10,000 to perform a data recovery if wholesale information is lost or damaged. Database conversions and custom fixes can be costlier yet. To prevent these errors, it is best to have a standard operating procedures manual for all database tasks. The manual should be updated annually as processes change and referred to frequently by any staff who work in the database regularly, as well as others who have questions about its proper use.
  • Know thy donor: Various staff will run across valuable bits of donor information that need to be recorded. When planning standard operating procedures, make sure that all of these contingencies are accounted for. Staff who process checks may run across a new address or phone number; staff who contact donors to set up meetings may learn a spouse’s name in the process; and staff who meet with donors will likely learn about the donor’s hobbies, interests, and significant life events. All of these data points are extremely valuable, and each of those staffers needs to have a way of recording that info or transmitting it to someone who can enter it into the database

Good data is often the difference between a strong donor relationship and a poor or even nonexistent one. For that reason, it is worth more than its weight in gold, especially since the weight of digital data is negligible!

David Hoyt serves as Senior Consultant at AC Fitzgerald. His vast experience with (c)(3) and (c)(4) operations equips him to design and implement comprehensive and proven development strategies for his clients.

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