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Data Hygiene for Nonprofits: A Guide to Database Management

If you’ve worked in nonprofit marketing or fundraising for any amount of time, you know the value of your organization’s data. Your data provides important insights into the motivations, interests, and giving habits of your supporters, including volunteers, funders, donors, corporations, employees, and other organizations or individuals in your database. The information allows you to craft outreach materials that speak to supporters’ needs and resonate with them.

However, your data management needs become more complex as your organization grows. A bare-bones constituent relationship management (CRM) system and data management strategy won’t cut it anymore. Your nonprofit requires a robust data hygiene and management approach to continue making the most of your valuable data insights. 

In this guide, we’ll review the benefits of proper data management, along with several strategies for keeping your database in top shape. Let’s look at ways you can jumpstart your database management overhaul in-house. 


Why is Data Hygiene Important for Nonprofits?

Your nonprofit probably gathers a hefty amount of data from various sources, including your online donation page, email marketing platform, event management system, and other digital sources. 

Without proper data hygiene procedures in place, this data can quickly get out of hand and overwhelm your CRM system. Plus, if you don’t continually update and cleanse your data, you won’t be able to verify its validity. That means you won’t be able to rely on it to help make informed marketing and fundraising decisions. 

Maintaining neat, accurate data can help your nonprofit by:

  • Providing access to accurate information to support your fundraising efforts. A robust and organized donor database allows you to develop donor profiles, create donor segments based on common characteristics, and tailor your outreach efforts to appeal to those segments. Using a core software solution with a single database for your fundraising, CRM, and accounting information simplifies data entry requirements, further maintains data consistency and accuracy, and allows for greater accountability.   
  • Allowing you to personalize your supporter communications. When your data is up to date, you can rest assured that you have the most accurate supporter information available. This information allows you to personalize communications by using supporters’ preferred names and referencing their involvement histories. 
  • Ensuring that your data is secure. A clean database is also a secure one. When you continually review your database for errors and vulnerabilities, you can identify and address any weak points in your data defenses. Because of the sensitive nature of your supporter data, the last thing you want is a data breach. Maintaining a secure database helps you preserve supporters’ trust. 
  • Increasing clarity and transparency for grantors and other funders. Many grantors and other funders require data reports or other evidence to prove that your organization will use grant funds wisely. Proper data hygiene practices ensure that you can produce precise reports to maintain transparency. 

As you can see, proper database management opens up plenty of new opportunities for your nonprofit, allowing you to harness the power of your valuable supporter information. So, how can you get your data management strategy where it needs to be? Read on for a few steps to begin your data hygiene efforts.


5 Steps for Better Database Management

Database management is the process of gathering, cleansing, enhancing, and using data to help serve your nonprofit’s mission and goals. Use these five steps to build the foundation for your database management strategy: 

1. Audit your database. 

The first step to fix any database issues that your organization faces is to get a realistic view of the extent of the problem. 

An audit is simply a detailed review of your nonprofit’s CRM database. Crawl through your database with a fine-toothed comb to identify any missing, unnecessary, or unhelpful data. Also, be sure to identify any potential security vulnerabilities, such as donor data living in spreadsheets instead of a secure system. 

2. Resolve errors or inaccuracies. 

After you’ve identified issues, it’s time to correct them. Get to work editing or eliminating problematic data points. Here are a few examples of ways you can resolve common issues:

  • Eliminate the information from individuals on Do Not Mail and Do Not Call lists, minors, and imprisoned or deceased individuals. This information can lead to a cluttered database overloaded with unnecessary entries. There are also strict guidelines for marketing to minors, and violating these regulations can lead to major fines. 
  • Use an email scrubbing tool to ensure all addresses are valid so you don’t waste time and money sending marketing messages to inactive accounts. 
  • Correct any security vulnerabilities that leave your database vulnerable to hacking threats.
  • Identify any duplicate records and resolve them by merging them into one accurate entry or eliminating the copies. 

After this process, you’ll have more confidence that your marketing outreach efforts are reaching real people who are interested in hearing more about your mission. 

3. Enhance your data with external sources.

During the auditing process, you might identify gaps in your database where information from certain individuals is missing. 

For example, perhaps you want to launch a year-ending fundraising email campaign. However, you only have the phone numbers for a specific group of valuable, high-level supporters and do not have their email addresses. 

Add missing information to your database by enhancing your data using external sources. This process, also known as data append or enhancement, involves using third-party data to supplement your internal database. 

When you partner with a data provider, you can append information such as:

  • Phone numbers
  • Email addresses
  • Net worth
  • Homeowner status
  • Employment status
  • Philanthropic involvement history

These additional pieces of information help you get in touch with prospective donors and provide insight into their capacity and willingness to contribute to your cause. You can use this information to identify and start building relationships with prospective major donors who have the potential to offer your nonprofit ongoing, significant support. 

Overall, the data enhancement process ensures that your database is not only accurate but also robust and complete. 

4. Create ongoing data maintenance procedures. 

Data hygiene isn’t a one-and-done process. Proper data management requires ongoing attention and maintenance to ensure that everything stays organized and clear. 

Establish standardized data hygiene best practices for your team. These procedures might include:

  • Standardize data entry procedures. Create guidelines for inputting data such as street addresses, abbreviations, and numbers. 
  • Outline instructions for correcting errors. Make sure everyone is on the same page about the process for identifying, documenting, and fixing errors. 
  • Devise a plan to prevent data buildup. Determine which data points are unnecessary and craft a strategy for reducing this data in the future. For instance, you might eliminate specific questions from your online donation page or add additional required questions that help you access vital information without needing to conduct another data append. 

Share these guidelines with each member of your team who works closely with your database. Ensure everyone has a solid understanding of their responsibilities when it comes to keeping your database clean. 

5. Use your data to support your outreach efforts. 

Once you’ve conducted a thorough data audit and established standardized ongoing management procedures, you can start incorporating data insights into your nonprofit’s fundraising and marketing efforts. 

For instance, if you’re conducting donor stewardship efforts, you can reference your database to personalize your outreach using donors’ preferred names and their involvement histories. 

You can also reference your data when deciding how to craft your donation requests to prospective major donors. Review prospect data such as wealth and affinity indicators to make the right ask. 

Also, you can use data to tell your organization’s story throughout your various marketing platforms and campaigns. For example, you can pull data when constructing your annual report to demonstrate how support for your organization grew throughout the year. 

After you’ve put in the hard work and time necessary to cleanse and supplement your data, you can start reaping the benefits of proper data management within your fundraising campaigns. 

Many nonprofits are intimidated by the prospect of establishing data hygiene procedures, but you’ll see immediate changes in your database with these simple tips. Plus, partnering with a database management agency will help you take your data stewardship practices to the next level, giving you access to expert advice and guidance. 

By taking these steps, you can make the most of your data and use your database as a valuable resource for organizational growth.

This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.

About the Author

Gabrielle is the Director of Marketing for AccuData Integrated Marketing. She joined the organization in 2017 and possesses more than 15 years of experience in strategic marketing, branding, communications, and digital marketing. She earned a B.S. in Marketing and an M.B.A in Marketing Management from the University of Tampa.

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