For many nonprofits, in particular schools, colleges, and universities, summer is a great time to do the all important “summer cleaning” that no one has time to do in the spring.  With many nonprofits, the end of the fiscal year is either the end of May, or more likely the end of June.  So July and August can be a great time to clean-up your fundraising system to make sure your data is as accurate and robust as possible, in particular when you start thinking of embarking on a data analytics and/or prospect screening project in the coming months, let’s say maybe later in the 3rd and 4th quarters.

Here at Blackbaud, our Target Analytics team has an abundant product offering for data clean-up with our Data Enrichment Services, and other vendors may provide some or all of these types of services as well.  Please feel free to check out these individual services on our website at Data Enrichment Services for more details.

The first step we recommend is doing a free Data Health Check.  This gives you high level information to find out what is incomplete, outdated, or missing from your database.

The data hygiene services that I would recommend for your organization to help clean-up and enhance your system are the following:

  • Updating your addresses by finding those that are out-of-date or incomplete,  using a service with United States Postal Service (USPS) standards or what is typically known as the National Change Of Address (NCOA) service.  This in turn will make any analytics project, wealth screening, or simply data appends, have a higher likelihood of yielding results for those prospect records.
  • Uncovering those individuals where addresses are truly missing and lost, and where no forwarding address was reported can be a nice compliment to any USPS address update service.
  • It is critical to identify those records of deceased individuals by utilizing the Social Security Death Benefit database.  This is essential to making sure you are not wasting time, money, and embarrassment to your institution.  Plus when you are looking to analyze your database, you most likely do not want to include those prospects that are no longer living.
  • Age append services can be critical if you need to obtain the age of your prospects, which is helpful for major and planned gift initiatives.  Are your prospects in their prime earning years and capable of giving a major gift to your institution?  Are they at the age when they may consider establishing an estate plan, thus a planned gift of some type?  Have they already established a planned gift via a bequest to your nonprofit?  These are important questions, and having age data can help ensure you have the necessary data in place.  I find age a major component in many of the custom predictive models that our clients receive, so again, this type of information is often indicative of those likely and capable of giving gifts to your institution.
  • Appending phone numbers is critical to the success of any major and planned giving program, as well as annual phone-a-thon programs.  The most successful fundraising institutions regularly update and append phone numbers.  Look for a service that also obtains whether or not your prospect is on the “Do-Not-Call Registry”, as this can help determine if phone contact is the best way to communicate and engage with your prospects.
  • Emails are another very important component to how you communicate with your prospects.  The ever-increasing busier lives that Americans tend to lead means that your prospects, in turn, prefer fast, efficient, and easy-to-use online vehicles of communication, so finding a good email append services is a great way to enhance your database and increase methods of touching your constituents.  It is possible that you may uncover that tracking those who respond to email appeals or e-newsletters, and/or click-through and donate via emails becomes a data variable that is predictive in your analytics projects.  Even today, email continues to be a highly desired method in which donors communicate.
  • Uncovering employment information on your prospects it another important piece that will help you uncover where your prospects work by uncovering their business name and address information, and thus if their company has a matching gift program.  Some services may be able to find titles, and occupation information often shows up in custom predictive models with our clients.  Business name and address information is also very helpful by increasing match rates when doing a wealth screening.

By simply making sure that your data is updated when information is uncovered (for example a prospect informs you of a change in phone number or address), and then making sure you have a level of consistency in recording your data (constituent codes, attendance at an event, codes for certain mail appeals), your organization will have a more accurate and measureable way to uncover patterns in your data for future analytics endeavors.  Ah… the fresh scent of a clean and healthy database!

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