Tips for Keeping Data Up-to-Date to Avoid Fundraising Pitfalls
Calling a donor by the wrong name, sending separate mailings to the donor and their spouse at the same household, or sending information to an old address, are all pitfalls that can occur when there’s bad data in your system.
“If you don’t have good data, then anything you generate as far as trying to make decisions off of that is going to be worthless,” says Joe Stabb, an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who consults on fundraising.
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“If you don’t have good data, then anything you generate as far as trying to make decisions off of that is going to be worthless,” says Joe Stabb, an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who consults on fundraising.
Keeping data as accurate as possible takes work, but there are simple steps nonprofits can take to ensure their data is accurate and up to date. First, organizations need to review how they handle data, says Sarah Wilber, a vice president at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Understanding how information is entered and what it takes to change a record can help the organization determine the best way to manage data.
The Kennedy Center is taking stock of the different ways it takes in data and how and where it’s stored in the database, Wilber says. “That way, we can really educate and train people about how to keep it clean and empower them to say, When you find a duplicate record, merge it yourself.”
It can be tempting to delete an old address when a new one comes in, says Emily Marcason-Tolmie, director of prospect management, research, and analytics at Skidmore College. But that can lead to confusion when records across an institution have the same name but different addresses — are these two different people, or someone who’s moved?
“You want to keep some historical data for reference,” Marcason-Tolmie says. “You might want to keep the old address in another field somewhere just so that eventually you start building the story of that person.”
Multiple experts stressed the importance of subscribing to a service that provides forwarding addresses when people move. But they say it’s critical to be consistent in your use of the service. Information about new addresses disappear from the system after a few months.
“As soon as you miss one or you miss two, it takes you years to catch back up,” says Rodney Grabowski, CEO of the University of Central Florida Foundation. “So you can’t stop it. The national change of address with the post office — it’s only with the post office for six months. If you don’t do it for two years, now you never have that person’s new address because it’s gone.”
The cost of the subscription is money well spent, Grabowski says. “I will never cut the budget for data hygiene because you pay the price for it for years to come.”