The Importance of Maintaining a Healthy Nonprofit Database

Healthy Database Blog Post

A nonprofit CRM is a dynamic system – constantly changing and adjusting based upon the data provided. In order for your teams to generate the most benefit from your system, you must have protocols in place and standard practices to maintain and update that database.

It may be helpful to view your nonprofit CRM as a garden. A garden must be tended to and nurtured. If you fertilize the soil, you reap results through the growth of produce. Your garden’s soil is similar to the data in your CRM. By augmenting or cleaning the data, you gain valuable insights. These insights empower your teams to make strategic fundraising decisions.

Just as produce grows in various stages – your database updates dynamically with new information. You may have periods of high activity (perhaps during the year-end giving season) and low activity. This mimics the changing seasons that a garden endures. Ultimately, the more time invested adding new data, purging old data, and maintaining data standards – the more benefits you will reap from your nonprofit CRM. The system can’t be left to fend for itself!

Why is it important to have a healthy nonprofit database?

The health of your data indicates how well your organization meets it goals. With accurate, current data your organizations can realize the following benefits:

1. Enhanced Donor Engagement

Correct donor data empowers your marketing team to better segment your database. Your fundraising teams can develop appeals that resonate with donors as they are based on reliable information. This leads to increased donor participation.

2. Increased Fundraising Effectiveness 

Eliminating outdated or wrong data allows nonprofit fundraisers to focus on those donors most likely to engage. This will increase the effectiveness of your campaigns and fundraisers' outreach.

3. Better Understanding of Outcomes

To effectively report programmatic impact, it’s critical to have good data. This ensures that you are meeting the needs of your constituents and securing donor trust.

4. Lowered Costs

By eliminating incorrect addresses or deleting bounced email addresses, you decrease the cost to conduct your fundraising campaigns.

Ultimately, the strength and effectiveness of your organization’s operations, fundraising, and marketing depends on accurate and reliable data.

How can you evaluate the health of your nonprofit CRM?

Before you can generate the results listed above, it’s critical to take a comprehensive look at your data. Does it pass a quality assurance check? Here are some characteristics to look out for:

  • Errors, typos, misspellings

No matter how compelling or inspiring your message, if a donor’s name or personal information is misspelled within your appeal, the donor will quickly dismiss it. All donor and campaign data must be spelled correctly for it to be useful.

  • Duplicate records

Duplicate records add unnecessary weight to your database and cause confusion to users. Which record is the most current? Which record should I run a wealth screen on?

Furthermore, many CRMs and marketing automation platforms price based upon the number of records or email addresses. If your system is bogged down with duplicate records, then your organization is paying more for the same records.

Fortunately, many CRMs offer duplicate detection to identify, merge, and deactivate duplicate records. By utilizing this functionality, you can streamline your data management processes and ensure that each constituent is represented accurately and uniquely in your system.

Systems may also offer constituent matching as you import files. Records are matched based upon scoring algorithms with a level of human oversight, so you can ensure the match is correct.

  • Inconsistent formatting

Are some addresses in your database listed as St. and others as Street? Do you list a constituent’s employer as their legal name or their DBA name? It’s important for all records to have uniform data standards as this impacts reporting, marketing, and fundraising records.

  • Incomplete data

There are certain data points that are critical to the success of your fundraising – donation amount, email address, or phone number. These data points reflect the uniqueness of your donor stewardship strategies or overall fundraising plan. Without them, you can’t scale your fundraising or act upon your plans. It’s important to ensure that records contain all relevant data points, so your organization can perform.

  • Obsolete data

Data within a nonprofit CRM becomes outdated – donors move, campaigns expire. Some common constituent data points that become obsolete include: email addresses, phone numbers, and addresses. Beyond contact details, administrators should consider removing engagement history after a defined time period, outdated campaigns, and reports. By removing this outdated information, the system becomes more functional. Don’t be a data pack rat!

How can you ensure your database remains healthy? 

Once you have identified your troublesome data, it’s critical to set up a project plan to clean your data and a process to ensure new standards are maintained.

Database Cleanup

To prevent overwhelming database administrators, break your cleanup into manageable steps. Begin by assessing major donors and volunteers for data quality. Then, eliminate obsolete lists, views, and workflows. Remove bounced email addresses, update constituent addresses with NCOA or Address Verification Services, and clear out old mailing addresses.

Next, scrutinize old engagement data for relevance. Consider whether you're still using or tracking these records and if alternative measures would be more valuable. Preserve historical significance if needed.

Review user permissions and remove those who have left the organization from the database.

Lastly, assess integrations for currency, data mapping accuracy, and continued use.

For a step-by-step data cleanup process plan, download our comprehensive checklist.

Create standard operating procedures

To make this a repeatable process, work internally to create a document that outlines the database cleanup process. List the roles and responsibilities of each team member. Clearly define each step of the process. Outline standard data conventions with examples. Define a protocol that lists how often these processes should take place.

Staff training

Your technology is only as strong as the skill set of the individuals that maintain and utilize it. With effective staff training, your organization will ensure the most effective usage of the system.

Offer system wide training sessions and attend webinars and participate in user groups. Consider offering incentives (giftcards or lunch and learn opportunities) for participating team members – especially if you do not have one designated database administrator.

For any new staff members, ensure that database training is included within their onboarding and include the SOP within their package.

A nonprofit CRM is a significant investment and critical to the success of your organization’s operations and fundraising. By instilling these standards and creating a culture that values data health, you’ll ensure the effectiveness of your systems for years to come.

StratusLIVE 365 is a purpose-built nonprofit CRM that offers features such as constituent matching and duplicate detection - making data cleanliness a breeze! Learn more about this powerful system built on Microsoft Dynamics 365:

Posted by Kelly Perry

Kelly Perry is a Senior Digital Marketing Manager, Nonprofit Solutions at StratusLIVE. She has over ten years marketing and communications experience within nonprofit technology and the publishing industries.