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Data Hygiene for Nonprofits: A Guide to Database Management

In the nonprofit fundraising and marketing worlds, data is what divides “good” and “great” approaches. Data provides insights into the motivations, interests, and giving habits of your supporters.  

This information allows you to craft outreach materials that resonate with donors, volunteers, and sponsors, building long-lasting relationships with them and encouraging them to further their involvement in your organization. However, your data is only useful if it’s accurate and organized. That’s where data hygiene comes into play. 

AccuData defines data hygiene as the processes that ensure data is clean—or error-free. When you implement data hygiene best practices, you can make the most of your data and be confident in its ability to produce valuable fundraising and marketing insights. 

In this guide, we’ll review the benefits of data hygiene for nonprofits, along with several strategies for keeping your database in top shape.  

Why Is Data Hygiene Important for Nonprofits? 

Your nonprofit likely gathers data from a variety of sources, including your online donation page, email marketing platform, event management system, and fundraising software.  

With proper data hygiene procedures in place, you can ensure this data doesn’t get out of hand and overwhelm your constituent relationship management system (CRM). Plus, if you continually update and cleanse your data, you can verify its validity and rely on it to make informed marketing and fundraising decisions.  

Maintaining neat, accurate data can help your nonprofit by: 

  • Empowering 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. Then, you can develop appropriate fundraising asks and communications that steward donors through the donor cultivation cycle
  • Personalizing your supporter communications. Use reliable information to personalize supporter communications and develop deeper donor relationships. For instance, you can address all communications using supporters’ preferred names and reference their involvement histories to show your investment in each donor.  

  • Ensuring that your data is secure. A clean database is also a secure one. Reviewing your database for errors and vulnerabilities enables you to identify and address any weak points in your data defenses. Plus, you’ll preserve supporters’ trust by protecting their sensitive information.  

  • Increasing transparency for grantors and other funders. Many grantors and funders require data reports to prove that your organization will use grant funds wisely. Proper data hygiene practices ensure that you can produce precise reports to maintain transparency.  

Proper database management allows you to harness the power of valuable supporter information and use it to effectively market your services, strengthen stakeholder relationships, and earn more for your cause. 

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. Follow these five steps to build the foundation for your database management strategy:Five steps for better database management, as outlined in the text below. 

1. Audit your database 

The first step to fix any underlying database issues is to get a realistic view of the extent of the problem. That way, you can create a strong plan for rectifying these issues and determine how long it will take. 

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

2. Resolve errors or inaccuracies. 

After you’ve identified any issues, it’s time to correct them. Here are a few examples of ways you can resolve common donor database problems: 

  • Eliminate the information from individuals on “Do Not Mail” and “Do Not Call” lists, minors, and deceased individuals. This information can clutter your database with unactionable 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 resources sending marketing messages to inactive accounts.  

  • Correct any security vulnerabilities that leave your database at risk of hacking and data breaches. 

  • Identify any duplicate records and resolve them by merging them into one accurate entry or eliminating the copies.  

After this process, your marketing efforts will reach people who are truly interested in hearing more about your mission. Additionally, you’ll save staff time by making your database more manageable to navigate. 

3. Conduct a data append. 

During the auditing process, you might identify gaps in your database where information from certain individuals is missing. For example, perhaps you only have the phone numbers for a specific group of valuable, high-level supporters but do not have their email addresses.  

Add missing information to your database by conducting a data append. This process involves using third-party data to supplement your internal database.  

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

  • Demographics 

  • Phone numbers 

  • Email addresses 

  • Net worth 

  • Homeowner status 

  • Employment status 

  • Philanthropic involvement history 

These additional pieces of information help you get in touch with current and prospective donors. Continuing with the example above, you can leverage the email addresses you append to reach as many supporters as possible with an email campaign and maximize your fundraising results. 

This data can also provide insight into prospective donors’ capacity and willingness to contribute to your cause. For instance, you can use information such as net worth and philanthropic involvement history to identify and build relationships with prospective major donors who have the potential to offer your nonprofit significant, ongoing support.  

4. Create ongoing data maintenance procedures. 

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

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

  • Data entry procedures. Create guidelines for inputting data such as street addresses, abbreviations, and numbers to maintain consistency. For instance, decide if you’d like to spell out “Street” and “Road” for addresses or use the abbreviations “St” and “Rd.” 

  • Instructions for correcting errors. Make sure everyone is on the same page about the process for identifying, documenting, and fixing errors. For example, you may have team members merge duplicate records or simply delete extraneous entries.  

  • A plan to prevent data buildup. Determine which data points are unnecessary, and craft a strategy for reducing this data in the future.  

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 in 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. Check out these data-driven fundraising and marketing use cases for inspiration: 

  • Craft specific donation requests to prospective major donors with the help of your database. Review prospect data such as wealth and affinity indicators to make the right ask.  

  • Tell your organization’s story throughout your various marketing platforms and campaigns. For example, you can pull data from your annual report to demonstrate how support for your organization grew throughout the year.  

  • Use demographic data to determine the best marketing channels for each donor segment. Getting Attention recommends using a mix of search ads, email marketing, your website, social media, video, and content marketing. You may market to younger donors using social media and reach older audiences with email and direct mail marketing, for instance. 

Putting newly optimized data into action allows your nonprofit to see positive fundraising and marketing results that propel your mission to new heights. 

Many nonprofits are intimidated by the prospect of tackling data hygiene, but you’ll see immediate changes in your database with these simple tips. Partnering with a data provider can take your data stewardship practices to the next level, giving you access to expert advice and guidance.  

Make the most of your data with proper data hygiene practices that take the stress out of database management and allow you to focus more time and energy on your donor relationships and mission. 

About the Author

Gabrielle is the Director of Marketing & Sales Operations for Deep Sync. She joined the organization in 2017 and brings 20 years of experience in strategic marketing, branding, communications, sales enablement, and digital marketing. With a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done attitude and a big-picture mindset, Gaby loves solving marketing and business challenges. She earned both a B.S. in Marketing and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management from the University of Tampa. Gaby enjoys spending time with her fiercely outspoken daughter, hiking and kayaking, rocking out in the first row of a live show, and giving back to her local community.

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