Big Data, Data Quality And the GIGO Rule

Big Data is important for nonprofits too!

In the association and nonprofit world, we are very big on acronym’s, aren’t we? However, in the software world we have carved out quite a few of our own. And, the acronym GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) was the purported brainchild of an IBM guru George Fuechsel. According to a piece published on the Princeton University website:

“[The term is] used primarily to call attention to the fact that computers will unquestioningly process the most nonsensical of input data (garbage in) and produce nonsensical output (garbage out).”

To be sure, it’s a phrase, and an acronym, that’s likely as old as the computer industry itself. You would think that we would have eliminated it completely by now, after all of these decades of experience. And yet there still seems to be some fairly smelly trash out there.

However, the caution is even more poignant today in the age of powerful computers, vast database processing capability, and this term “Big Data“. If you want your member or donor database to be worth the effort, pay attention to the five precepts of ensuring good data quality regardless of how big that data may be:

1. Set up data validation rules. You would not want a donor’s dollar amount entered into a date field. Setting up a data entry rule for each entry prevents many data entry errors and omissions.

2. Use a data entry screen. The best way to ensure consistency is to devise a user-friendly data entry form that accommodates one record at a time.

3. Devise detailed data labels to avoid confusion. A data label is your field name. An ambiguous or confusing data label would be Date. A detailed data label would be Date Donation Received.

4. Control the vocabulary, or program a choice list to limit the length and amount of the data being entered. Most database programs include this as a data field programming choice, and you can block unwanted or erroneous data entry by restricting the data entry variables accepted by your database

5. Always document your database design. The object is to make sure your data is immediately understandable to others who use it in future data collection projects — as well as a memory jog to yourself later on.

Data rot produces GIGO

The impact of bad processes with regards to data can be dramatic. For example, here is one quick illustration. Last year’s donor or member database, with 1,100 names, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, has an 11 percent statistical probability of having obsolete entries.

That equates to over 120 returned fund-drive letters or bounced e-mails, as well as wasted time on the part of your telephone marketers to get people to make a contribution. If your donor database is the flagship of your fund drives or annual event, obsolete data would be the barnacles on its hull.

Since we’re into metaphors here, when it comes to avoiding data rot, you need to eat that 72 OZ Steak one bite at a time. You do that through an ongoing data verification and smoking out errors during data transcription. There are also database analysis applications like our partner Updentity that will run quality checks to keep your database current.

It may be time to move up

Your member or donor spreadsheet may have become too wide and deep, or your database may have meandered into the obtuse realm of undocumented confusion. Nonprofit organizations have unique software requirements and the aforementioned barebones applications eventually buckle under the sheer weight of the data they support.

We discuss the unique needs of nonprofit software in our blog in Engagement Management Software. If it is time for your nonprofit organization to bring all your data together, or if we can answer any of your questions on data quality or the value of an integrated database to make better decisions, please contact us.

Pure Accomplishment with Marketing Automation and integration


Marketing Automation should be integrated to your CRM, AMS, or Donor system to achieve success! SmartThoughts can help!


Many associations have invested thousands of dollars in their Association Management Software (AMS) platforms. As discussed many times on this site, certainly an AMS can dramatically increase the productivity of your staff and your members engagement. However, most forward thinking organizations have begun to think beyond the basics of their AMS systems and are looking for more ways to enhance their membership communications and ability to understand how to best nurture their existing and prospective members to improve participation.

No doubt, AMS systems have their strengths, but the area where they provide the most benefit may well be from additional applications that support specific business goals. These tools can range from learning management systems or Abstract Management systems to more complimentary solutions centered around member management communication, integration with email, & marketing efforts.

We believe that Marketing Automation (MA) is one of the most comprehensive solutions which can dramatically increase the success in your AMS system. And, the synergy between member management activities and marketing could potentially allow an association to increase ROI in your member management area, improve new member sign ups, deliver more predictable dues and non-dues revenue, and make all departments communication efforts more impactful.

To be sure, many AMS systems have some element of marketing. In fact, many contain an integrated email marketing system embedded in the primary feature sets. However, for some associations their AMS may need to take it to the next level of maximum marketing power. This is no knock on AMS systems. It’s simply moving beyond the basics into more sophisticated territory. In most AMS systems, they were developed to handle individual one on one contacts while marketing always works with larger segments of leads. In short, marketing has to deal with thousands of names and manage thousands of leads to pinpoint the right targets to focus their efforts.

With Marketing Automation, you can add another layer of accomplishment on top of your AMS. One of the main drivers of MA is what is referred to as “Lead Management”. Many associations looking for ways to grow their membership or simply retain the membership need a much more comprehensive way to follow-up with their leads to be sure they are qualified. This lead management process is one of the key tenants of Marketing Automation.

For many leading associations, the lead management process starts with capturing leads through your member website. With MA, once a landing web page form is filled out, a dialogue could be started via email in order to deliver pertinent information to the prospective member or existing member. In many circles, this is called lead nurturing. And, while this email is sent, activity on the web site visits are tracked, recorded, and monitored by the system.

What if you could do or know  the following:

  • Know when your emails get opened?
  • Did your member or donor download a Legislative Brief or donor mission call to Action?
  • Did the donor or member visit certain web pages after looking at the content?
  • How many times?
  • How long were they on a specific donation page? Did they contribute or Sign up? Why not?
  • Optimize your web content to increase traffic from your web?

With MA, your Membership or Donor team can review the findings and assign calls out based on relevant interests.While this type of automation may be present in a few AMS systems today, it’s likely the marriage of the two systems (AMS and Marketing Automation) that allows a nonprofit association to increase staff effectiveness and ensure the success of your membership and marketing efforts.

In order to measure success in your marketing efforts you will need Marketing Automation, call SmartThoughts to find your fit!
With Marketing Automation and AMS Software

Benefits of AMS with Marketing Automation:

  • Capability for AMS to provide a central location for all members and prospective members/donors
  • An AMS system has opportunity management features which can take a prospective new member and move them into a member or donor management pipeline
  • Member interaction activity management which is critical to on boarding process

Benefits of Marketing Automation with an AMS:

  • Marketing Automation will provide a huge productivity boost for a marketing department lead generation
  • New Member campaigns can be performed automatically rather than manually
  • Marketing Automation provides better metrics on Member campaign effectiveness
  • Push content that will interest your members and prospects based on website activity
  • Campaigns for conferences, new membership campaigns, or general awareness efforts will improve your nurturing capabilities
  • Social media posting prowess
  • Increase AMS data quality with tools to prevent duplicates by appending information to existing records as well as identifying and merging duplicates
  • Increased efficiency by Membership staff to prioritize and interact with the most relevant leads
  • Deliver more predictable non-dues, donor, and general dues revenue

We believe that when a smart Marketing Automation system and a robust capable AMS system are combined to facilitate engagement, your organization will not doubt realize significant benefits.

If you’re exploring ways to improve your marketing efforts and would like to discuss our experience in this area, please contact us today to discuss smart alternatives.


Software may seem like a commodity today but culture and support is not

Vendor partner culture matters!
Vendor partner culture matters!

In today’s association software market, there are a considerable amount of options. In fact, we have insights into over 50 association management software providers who we follow in order to be sure that we are up to date and able to find the right solution for our clients.

Having said that, each software provider has it’s own “uniqueness” which makes them different than the alternatives. However, it is not always features that make a vendor partner solution better and the right for your organization. If you have found yourself in a decision between two software options (which are very similar and seem to offer comparable features) how will your organization decide?

If you have performed a thorough search process, defined your requirements, included all stakeholders, and truly partnered with the vendors in the discovery, the final tipping point may indeed be the culture and environment of the software vendor which will no doubt impact the support your partner is able to provide initially and long term.

Association Nonprofit Management Software today may seem like a commodity to you but culture is not. Commoditization is something that happens to every successful industry eventually—success attracts attention, and there is always a competitor willing to offer a lower price to compensate for a lesser known brand or “good enough” quality, as well as customers to whom price means more than brand, quality, or anything else the high end providers have to offer them.

To be sure, we do not believe association nonprofit software is a commodity but it’s hard for many evaluating software today to discern the difference between one option and the other. As a result, for some less experienced buyers they tend to lump software into being a commodity.

That noted, the way by which the company treats it’s employee, fosters a spirit of collaboration, and trains it’s staff is critical and should never be overlooked. Good support is essential to a good user experience and in order to provide good support a company’s culture must foster the importance of taking care of the client. Any non-trivial piece of software is going to result in questions that need to be answered and issues that need to be resolved.

So, in the selection process, what are some of the items to ask about or pick up during the process of evaluating your options? Here are several which come to mind:

  • What is the organizations mission statement?
  • Are they truly focused on your industry and committed to supporting it? Ex.Member of ASAE.
  • Do they foster a fun and innovative work environment for their staff?
  • What type of training does the organization provide to its team members?
  • Does the organization hire or have master certified engineers on staff?
  • Are the support staff certified?
  • What is the average length of employment at the firm for its team members?
  • Is the organization growing?
  • Does the organization have a cause which the company supports?
  • What type of perks does the company provide its employees? Ex. Vacation Vouchers, Flexible work schedules, time off.
  • Does the organization encourage continuing education?
  • Do you get the feeling the the organization is focused on a culture of “selling to someone” rather than solving business problems?

Admittedly, this is likely a tough area to evaluate during the selection process for most organizations. Therefore, you may find the experience of a software adviser to be warranted in your evaluation process. A skilled software advisers will take the time to understand your needs, understands the competitive landscape, and should have many years of experience in the association nonprofit market to aide in the journey.

However the information about culture and support is determined, we believe it is imperative to take the time to get to know your vendor partner on a more personal level before the selection is made.

If you would like more information on our methodology for the software selection process, please contact us. We are here to help!