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  • Carl Diesing

Cleaning & Maintaining Donor Data: Top 4 Recommendations

Nonprofits are collecting more data than ever before. From virtual events to peer-to-peer fundraising and social media outreach, the amount of information now available to your nonprofit is unprecedented. Because of this, it’s crucial to have a proactive— not reactive— approach to data hygiene.

Data hygiene is the process of cleaning and maintaining your donor data to ensure it’s as accurate as possible. Well-maintained data increases efficiency and can even help your organization discover opportunities to improve or expand your fundraising efforts. On the other hand, unclean data can actively hold you back and lead to wasted resources.

In this guide, we’re going to discuss the following four tips for cleaning and maintaining your nonprofit’s supporter data:

  • Conduct a baseline assessment and refresh your database.

  • Only collect data that benefits your strategy.

  • Integrate your nonprofit tech solutions.

  • Create ongoing data hygiene procedures

At the end of the guide, we’ll wrap up with a bonus tip about how you can use your newly cleaned data going forward. Are you ready to dive into your database and conduct a full refresh? Let’s get started.

Conduct a baseline assessment and refresh your database.

Before you make any large-scale changes to your database, conduct an audit to understand the baseline hygiene of your records. For example, which data points are useful for your fundraising and programming efforts, and which have never come in handy in the past? Which areas of your database are the least hygienic— for example, are you missing many volunteer email addresses and phone numbers?

This audit will point you in the direction of where to start with your initial database cleanup. These assessments commonly result in next steps such as:

  • Removing unhelpful information. This includes suppressing the contact information of minors, incarcerated individuals, and deceased individuals— each of whom would be unable to respond to marketing solicitations. This is also where you’d want to remove the contact information of individuals who are registered on Do Not Call and Do Not Mail lists.

  • Fixing incomplete and non-standardized entries. For example, if you have incomplete contact information for donors, volunteers, sponsors, or any of the many external forces that contribute to your organization, this step is where you’ll add that information. Or, if you have non-standardized entries (such as a multitude of mailing addresses entered with different abbreviation conventions), you’ll want to align all of those records to match.

  • Removing or merging duplicate records. It’s fairly easy to duplicate records in a database— for example, if a donor is added as a new record each time they give, or if you have separate records for each half of a married couple. For any carbon-copy records, you’ll want to remove the duplicates. Or, if you have a variety of duplicate records, each with slightly different information, you’ll want to merge them into one cohesive file.

This initial clean-up may be time-consuming, especially if you’re a long-standing organization that hasn’t prioritized data hygiene in the past. However, once you’ve completed an initial refresh of your database, you’ll be left with only accurate and useful data that can enhance your strategy.

You’ll want to maintain your database to prevent having to do another extensive data refresh again down the line. We’ll focus on best practices for data maintenance in the remaining sections of this guide.

Only collect data that benefits your strategy.

From online fundraising to the virtual events you’ve likely held over the past year, technology has empowered your organization to stay in touch with supporters near and far and collect a host of data on each interaction.

As far as the amount of data you can collect, DNL OmniMedia’s guide to nonprofit data management says: “However, just because you can store unlimited supporter data and analytics in your CRM, that doesn’t mean it’s wise to stock your database with every detail imaginable. It’s up to you to decide which information is truly meaningful to your organization and change your storage settings accordingly.”

To prevent an overloaded database, you’ll only want to collect data that directly correlates to your efforts. This includes baseline information such as:

  • Biographic and contact information

  • Donation and financial records

  • Engagement histories

  • Professional and personal affiliations, such as employers and households

Beyond that, only ask supporters for information that pertains to your nonprofit’s engagement strategies. For example, if you’re trying to optimize your marketing efforts, you may ask supporters about which communication channels they prefer to be contacted through. Or, if you’re creating a fundraising calendar for next year, you may survey supporters about which of your campaigns they enjoyed the most.

This tip is most important when it comes to the various forms that you ask supporters to fill out, such as your online giving form, event registration forms, and even volunteer sign-up forms. Your supporters don’t want to dedicate significant time to filling out forms. Asking for less information increases the chances that they actually complete the activity and contributes to your data hygiene efforts.

Integrate your nonprofit tech solutions.

By now, your organization has a stack of nonprofit technology solutions that you use to manage your nonprofit’s fundraising and donor stewardship efforts. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Grant management software to track grant applications, the usage of allocated funds, and any deadlines and reporting requirements.

  • Major gift management software to track the gift cultivation efforts of major gift officers.

  • Advocacy tools that host any awareness-focused outreach efforts conducted by staff members and volunteers alike.

  • Email marketing software that automates your digital direct marketing efforts.

  • A website, which shares information and tracks the activities of site visitors.

  • Fundraising software, including your online fundraising platform and any virtual fundraising events software you’ve used in the past year.

Each of these solutions manages one aspect of your nonprofit’s fundraising and engagement activities. Each of those activities generates a breadth of data stored in the corresponding software solution.

When your nonprofit’s fundraising and engagement data is spread across a variety of tech tools, it’s impossible to see a full picture of your organization’s efforts. Imagine you’re planning two Giving Tuesday events, one aimed at donors and one aimed at volunteers. If you can’t see a full picture of your efforts, you may end up accidentally scheduling those two engagements for the same day— and, those champion supporters who give both their time and money would be unable to attend both.

This is just one example of the challenges that can result from having data stored in a variety of systems. Rather than encountering these challenges, you should integrate your various nonprofit technology solutions with your organization’s constituent relationship management (CRM) system.

That way, the data from your various systems will flow into your CRM and create a comprehensive picture of all of your nonprofit’s activities.

Create ongoing data hygiene procedures.

Let’s say you’ve set up dedicated processes so that only valuable data is flowing into and neatly stored in your CRM. These processes will be hindered if you don’t have policies and procedures in place to regulate the human element of your organization. After all, it only takes one missed keystroke in a donor’s record for that supporter to be unreachable.

Create institutional policies to ensure each member of your staff understands the best practices for interacting with your database. When doing so, answer the following questions:

  • Who will be responsible for data entry?

  • Where will the various types of data be stored— in your CRM? In a variety of software solutions?

  • What standardizations or conventions will you follow to keep information clean? How will you handle names, dates, numerals, addresses, titles, and more?

  • Which fields are required in a donor record and which are optional?

  • How will you designate relationships between supporters?

  • How should errors be handled, whether duplicate profiles, outdated or incorrect records, or something else?

This list isn’t exhaustive, and you’ll want to outline any additional rules as they pertain to your organization’s specific efforts.

Beyond outlining rules of data maintenance, consider using donor segmentation to create intuitive groups of your supporters for ongoing analysis. Segmentation is defined as “the act of organizing the donors in your database into groups based on their shared characteristics.”

Segmenting your donors empowers you to examine giving trends across groups of donors, rather than trying to examine all of your supporters en masse. You could create segments for new donors, one-time donors, volunteers, repeat donors, major donors, specific generations, specific employers, donors at risk of lapsing, and more.

Create rules for the criteria for each segment to ensure all supporters are added to the correct group. Then, you can use insights from your segments to enhance your fundraising strategy— something we’ll discuss in the next section.

Bonus Tip: Enhance your fundraising strategy using your donor data.

Last but certainly not least, actively use your donor data to improve your fundraising efforts. You’re not collecting this information to take up space in your database— it should be carefully evaluated to discover new opportunities for your organization. For example, you may:

  • Discover new opportunities for matching gifts. According to Double the Donation’s matching gift statistics, 65% of Fortune 500 companies offer matching gift programs. If you create a segment for donors who are match-eligible, you then know to reach out to them with a reminder to begin the match process each time they donate.

  • Discover opportunities for increased support. If you have a supporter who is giving regularly and in increasing amounts, you may want to contact that supporter to begin major gift conversations.

  • Discover potential lapsed donors. By creating a segment of supporters who haven’t engaged with your organization recently, you can initiate a specific outreach cadence designed to regain their support before they lapse.

  • Discover opportunities to offer more value. By evaluating data from your past fundraising and engagement efforts, you can discover which were the most popular. Perhaps you discover that specific remote activities such as virtual events or webinars were popular. Then, you can replicate these events going forward.

To wrap up, data hygiene isn’t a one-time effort. Cleaning and maintaining your donor data should be front-of-mind at all times, from the data you collect, to how you structure your tech stack, to the policies you implement for staff to follow.

It may sound like a lot of work, but the payoff is worth it when you consider the value that a well-maintained database of donor data provides. Good luck!


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