However, without proper management, your collected data is essentially useless (or next to useless). To gain helpful insights, you need to organize your data and keep up with it regularly.
If your database is particularly unorganized or error-ridden, it can be difficult to figure out where to start with data management. Establish a proper data management routine with the help of these tips:
1. Determine your goals
Developing a clear plan for database management allows everyone on your team to get on the same page about your current data priorities. For example, you might set a goal to update your supporters’ email addresses so your e-newsletters reach the right people. When your team members know the main objective of their work, they can pay attention to data errors that hinder goal completion.
It’s also helpful to establish a recurring time to reevaluate your data goals. If your organization typically establishes overarching strategy goals on a quarterly basis, consider changing your database management goals every three months as well.
2. Standardize data entry
When you standardize the data entry process, you save your team time and energy that can be reallocated to implementing your overarching goals. Plus, standardization makes it easy for new team members to quickly jump in and understand how the process works.
Creating data entry rules can prevent confusion during later data analysis. For example, make it clear if you want your team to use address abbreviations such as “St” and “Rd” or spell all words out fully.
Additionally, distinguish between essential and extraneous information so you can clear up clutter in your database. For proper donor recognition, Fundraising Letters recommends storing donor giving history data so you can personalize your donor appreciation efforts. If you intend to send donor thank-you letters, make sure your team knows that giving history is an important part of your data strategy and should remain in your database.
3. Train your team
To ensure everyone understands your data standardization practices, provide training for the appropriate team members. Make it clear how you’d like your team to enter, clean, and analyze data.
Since data work is very detail-oriented, you need to make sure you’re confident in the abilities of every team member who has access to your database. Additionally, it’s good practice to designate a point person for all data-related questions to prevent confusion.
4. Clean your data
AccuData defines data hygiene as the process of cleaning data—or removing errors in your database. Data errors include outdated, incomplete, duplicated, or inaccurate information.
Reaching out to donors using inaccurate or outdated contact information wastes resources on the wrong people and can cause you to lose support as a result. If donors or volunteers see that you're addressing them by the incorrect name or failing to recognize a previous contribution, this might sour the relationship with your organization.
Follow these data hygiene best practices to ensure your data is clean:
- Conduct a database audit. Take a look at the state of your current database. Make sure to consolidate any information contained in spreadsheets and physical forms into your database. Once all your data is in the same place, take note of inaccurate data and determine how long it will take to resolve each issue.
- Remove any inaccurate or unnecessary information. Next, implement the changes you planned during your audit. Common inaccuracies include data from deceased supporters, incorrect email addresses, and duplicate records.
- Reconsider the supporter data you collect. If you notice an extensive amount of extraneous data in your database, rethink the information you solicit from your supporters. Edit any surveys or polls to only reflect your current data priorities.
Make sure your team understands the implications of improper data hygiene so they’re on high alert for any outdated or inaccurate information.
5. Conduct a data append
During the data-cleaning process, you may notice that you’re missing important information. For example, let’s say you’re running a matching gift campaign. In this case, it would be helpful to have employer data from your supporters so you can research which employers match employee contributions.
To add missing data to your database, use a "data append." A data append involves supplementing your database with information from third-party sources. In addition to employer data, you can also append email addresses, giving history, net worth, phone numbers, and social media handles.
6. Back up your data
Technological errors can happen when you least expect them, so it’s important to be prepared. Make sure to back up your data in case of an emergency.
When choosing a database, look for options that offer backup guarantees. You can also develop a backup method such as exporting data to an offline Excel file.
7. Protect your data
Your database likely contains sensitive information about your supporters. Keep it safe with proper security measures, such as:
- Only sharing your database password with people in your organization.
- Using a unique database password from a password generator.
- Creating a separate account for each person with access to your database.
- Changing your database password regularly.
- Deactivating accounts of people who leave your organization.
- Enabling two-step authentication.
Maintaining supporter trust—even in behind-the-scenes operations such as data management—is essential to building lasting relationships with donors, volunteers, and other stakeholders.
8. Consider working with a data management team
If your team doesn’t have the time or resources to dedicate to proper database management, it might be beneficial to partner with a data management vendor such as 501 Commons' Data Solutions team. Data experts understand that it’s not “just data”—data is a major tool you can leverage to improve donor relationships and get an edge over your competitors.
Whether you’re looking for help with a small database project or overall data management, working with a dedicated team will help you achieve your goals and allow you to focus your time on giving back to the community.