Finding and Correcting Bad Data | npENGAGE

Finding and Correcting Bad Data

By on Jun 23, 2011


Note from The below article was previously published in Blackbaud’s Fundraising Well newsletter.

Things are not always as they seem.  When a prospect researcher searches a database for prospect information and finds nothing, is there truly nothing to be found?  When the researcher finds something, are the data comprehensive and accurate?  The answer to both questions is “no.”

One of the first lessons you learn as a prospect researcher is that every data source contains false information.  There is no conspiracy of misinformation here.  It is simply the case that business directories, real estate databases, donation lists, and other sources used by prospect researchers are created and maintained by human beings using computers.  And as the old saying goes, “To err is human.  To really foul things up requires a computer.”

Some things can be done to minimize the chance that you will unknowingly trust bad data.  The most important tools are common sense and experience.  After you’ve looked at enough real estate records, you should recognize the fact that the 1,200 square foot condo in Omaha is unlikely to be worth $20,000,000, even though this is the figure clearly reported in black and white by LexisNexis.  This is where you start looking for other sources that give a different perspective on the same thing.  If we’re dealing with real estate, you might look for comparable sales, consult a real estate buyer’s source like Zillow, or access the county assessor records which are the ultimate source (which is to say the original source, not an infallible one) for public real estate data.

This latter point about going to the original source brings up another strategy that can be employed to improve the accuracy and completeness of prospect research.   Many of the tools used to gather prospect data aggregate information from multiple sources and make all of them searchable simultaneously.  These tools are great time savers.  However, nothing beats being able to go directly to the original source of the information.  Often the source provides a greater degree of flexibility in designing your search than the aggregator does.  Being able to browse the raw data may lead to a discovery of information that you would not have found otherwise.  For example, you might be interested in finding philanthropic gifts from a particular individual.  Going directly to, which has the largest database of philanthropic gifts compiled from nonprofit annual reports, affords you many ways to search, including different variations on the name, type of gift and gift size.

All this is not to suggest that you should always be suspicious that the information you found has been corrupted.  As I mentioned earlier, experience and common sense will contribute to your feeling that the information makes sense or it doesn’t.  When it doesn’t, the best technique is to seek additional sources that deal with the same information and get as close to the source material as you can.

Dave Lamb
Senior Solutions Consultant, Target Analytics
800.443.9441 x3350


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