Maintaining a consistently clean database is no easy task. It takes a lot of time, effort, and staff to ensure that the data in your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database is usable. To add to the dilemma, your list of to-do items is likely quite long and ever-growing, which makes focusing on a cleanup project that much harder to tackle.

Do You Really Need to Clean Your Donor Database?

We recommend that your organization consistently maintains its database. It's especially important to focus your attention on a database cleanup project if your data reaches a point where it's in bad condition and yields poor results. We wrote a blog post a few weeks ago that contains information on how to know if your donor data is good. In short, there isn't a magical answer. What is "good" data for one social good organization, may be "bad" data for another. In general, red flags should be raised if:

  1. Your organization lacks direction in regard to the type of data it's collecting and why it's being collected. (Identifying goals and collecting data that supports your goals will help here.)
  2. If there are inconsistencies between data points, if data is missing, or if data is cluttered and messy. (Having a Data Standards Guide to keep data consistent is incredibly helpful.)
  3. There is no organization-wide buy-in on the importance of maintaining a clean database. (Adhering to a data maintenance process will keep all staff educated and dedicated.)

You can find more details on the subject in the “Good Donor Data Versus Bad Donor Data” blog article.



To Start, Establish a Data Team

What works for one department doesn’t always work for the entire organization. It’s cumbersome when one department alters the information in the database, and it conflicts with another department’s needs. Assigning staff members to a Data Team is an important, yet often overlooked step in cleaning a database. The team should consist of individuals from different areas of the organization, such as development, back-office, IT, etc. By getting multiple areas involved, you’ll create better alignment across the organization and ensure that data needs are covered organization-wide.

Set Aside the Appropriate Time

It's no mystery that database cleanup and maintenance take a significant amount of time. Get the most out of your efforts by setting and adhering to a schedule. A database cleanup program should define when and for how long everyone needs to work on their cleanup tasks. If your database requires a big overhaul, the time you invest will be heavily weighted during the first few weeks and ease up to a few hours or less per week as time passes. You can take a database schedule to the next level by attaching milestones to the time you dedicate. By using a schedule, participants will have more clarity about what's expected of them and will foster a better sense of collaboration.


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Segment Your Approach

Figuring out where to start the data cleanup exercise can be overwhelming. Keep in mind that it can’t all be tackled at once. We recommend using a “brick by brick” approach whereby you focus on groups of data at a time. Some segment suggestions are:

  • Goals – Design with the end in mind by determining what you want to do with the data, and then work backward.
  • Affinity Groups – Bucket all your contacts based on affinity groups or societies such as Women’s Leadership, Young Philanthropists, Emerging Leaders, etc.
  • Events – Group contacts who have attended specific fundraising events or have participated in different volunteering programs.
  • Campaigns – If you know that you want to target a certain group of donors for a campaign, consider what donor information will qualify those individuals and take a close look at your database to see if that info is readily available.

Examine Your Data

Are the fundamental data points available across the board? At the very least, all individual accounts in your CRM should have full names and contact information, giving history, event attendance statistics, and volunteer participation information. In the “Good Donor Data Versus Bad Donor Data” blog article, we shared a chart that includes examples of common data points that Andar Software customers collect in Andar/360.

When taking a close look at your data, it's crucial to identify if it follows your nonprofit organization's data standards. Are work telephone numbers with extensions formatted the same way? What about home and workplace addresses? Also, consider deleting duplicate or extra information in your database that isn't being used. Keeping it takes up space and may complicate how you pull and analyze your data for campaigns and events.


Key Data Points for a Donor Database

A CRM contains many key data points about donors, prospects, and volunteers.
Take a look at this chart to see a high-level view of the data that can live inside the Andar/360 donor database.

Promote a Data Culture

Having a great data culture means that every person in the organization understands the value of keeping data clean and (directly or indirectly) puts in the work to maintain it. Communicate the value of your data to staff by connecting productivity to clean data. For instance, a segmented mailing list would take less time to put together if all the necessary data points exist in the database. If you are able, place a time and dollar value around why it's essential to have clean data. Remember, each department in your social good organization understands and uses the data differently, so the perceived value will not be the same across departments. Alternatively, you can show the consequences of what having inadequate data means. If you have bad email addresses and lots of duplicates, how will that affect the process of pulling a mailing list that then requires three hours of de-duping?

Obtain Leadership Buy-In

To get leadership on board, let them know of all the great stuff you could be doing if you have clean data. "CRM" and "segmentation" are buzzwords, but to act on them requires organization-wide buy-in. Having top-down support to communicate data standards and why they are important will ensure everyone in the organization adheres to expectations. Plus, leadership involvement will guarantee that the Data Team receives the visibility it deserves, and that staff is held accountable for keeping the database clean.

To Conclude

A CRM is more than a place where organizations can toss every bit of data they obtain and then forget about it. Think of your donor database as a living entity that needs to be taken care of regularly to be useful. By regularly maintaining your database, you will have more accurate reports. A clean CRM yields better results from your outreach efforts because your email addresses and other contact information will be correct. Plus, you'll be targeting the appropriate audiences based on accurate, valuable information like rankings and interest ratings.


Create a Data Standards Cheat Sheet

Download a free template of a data standards cheat sheet for your nonprofit CRM

Your organization likely has volumes of data about donors, volunteers, and members. All of this information can be quite overwhelming if you don't use it properly.

Download this cheat sheet template to record at a glance information about the data elements in your CRM (customer relationship management) database.

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