Picture this…

You walk into your favorite museum, ready to check out the newest exhibit. You’re already mildly miffed because you got three emails this morning from them, at three different email addresses. You approach the member’s desk, they scan your card, and the membership assistant says, “I’m sorry. Your membership has expired. Would you like to renew?” You just renewed your membership online two weeks ago! How could this be? Mildly miffed becomes just plain miffed, and after more research the assistant finds that a duplicate record has been created for you in the system with the new membership. In fact, you have three records. Everything is cleared up and you finally enter the museum, shaking your head and wondering, “How could they be so disorganized?

Staying on top of data hygiene and duplicates can solve a great deal of issues.

There are so many tools out there that make duplicate management a relatively easy process. While it can be mind numbing, it is a good way to prevent some of the most common complaints, and you may end up saving  money on large direct mailings if you are not sending 2 or 3 mailings to the same households. Another benefit may be that you notice a decrease in opt-out rates for email appeals, as you won’t be sending someone the same email 3 times.

You can get and keep your duplicate mess cleaned up by dedicating just a few hours a week.

When you’re cleaning up duplicates once a week, the process becomes easier to manage vs. running a duplicate checker every few months. Other easy ways to keep your data clean is standardizing names and searching for names that have been entered incorrectly (Jonh, rather than John).

Additionally, services provided by Blackbaud can be very helpful in keeping your data clean and your donors happy, specifically Deceased Record Finder. It’s nonproductive to send mail to donors who are deceased, and doing so is a great way to upset surviving spouses.

Once your database is sparkling clean, get a Policies and Procedures manual in place that outlines data entry standards.

A Policies and Procedures manual is a really important tool for getting new staff and staff who have been around for a while on the same page. It’s really helpful to outline why things are done a certain way, as well as how they should be done. There are many fine examples available online, shared by other users.

I hope by using some of these basic concepts, you’ll be able to take a look at your database and get a sense of what you can do to clean things up. The impact on your donors’ experience should be a positive one. As I am often heard saying, “A clean database is a happy database!


Amy Barker is the Membership Operations Manager at The Trustees of Reservations. Amy has worked at a number of nonprofit organizations, using Raiser’s Edge since her first job out of college in 2000. When not busy making sure the database at the Trustees is spic and span, you can find her hiking, running obstacle course races, making contacts via ham radio, or relaxing at home with her boyfriend, 3 cats, and Satin Angora rabbit, Fawn.

Get nonprofit articles, best practice advice, fundraising ideas and invaluable industry reports and webinars delivered for free!