How to Boost Data Quality in your Nonprofit CRM

Keys to Help Boost Data Quality in CRM Software for Nonprofits

I have been writing a lot about Marketing Automation Software in recent weeks. And, as I researched and thought about the wonderful aspects of various marketing automation technologies on the market, it reminded me of a basic necessity in the best marketing technologies or any database for that matter today; and that’s clean data. In this article, I discuss some fundamental challenges with data quality and offer 5 ways to help minimize those issues with donor software for nonprofits.

Doing business these days can feel a lot like watching a fast paced professional basketball game, everything is moving fast, and it’s hard to know where to look to keep up with the action. Along with massive improvements in technology, and even more efficient methods there are as many moving elements with keeping track of your data.

Having good clean data is paramount for any organization to utilize their database successfully for any purpose. Yet, it’s not uncommon for many nonprofit executives who call us for help in finding the best database software, to forget that fact. And, it’s hard to accept sometimes that it’s not a new Nonprofit CRM Software which is required but rather the problem with their database is poor data practices.

So, this is a bit of reminder that data accuracy is still an area for major improvement in many organizations today. And, the main cause of data quality issues are the result of human error. And, since we can’t get rid of humans, it’s important to know that there are several effective ways to improve your company’s data quality without drop kicking the CRM Software you have in place now.

5 Key Steps to Improve Data Quality in Databases for Nonprofits 

  • Identify Data Entry Points: Knowing who’s inputting the data, and where they are getting it from, can help eliminate redundancies, and discover where the errors are happening and why. Also, pinpointing where the high volume channels are, and where the most errors are happening will dictate where more attention, or staff need to be focused.
  • Thoroughly Train Staff: Properly educated staff will go along way with data accuracy. Avoid keeping your staff trained and up to date with your existing Nonprofit Database Management Software.
  • Utilize Automated Tools: Use automation to verify data, and ensure accuracy. Identify what data elements are of the utmost importance and prioritize and evaluate the best possible solutions.
  • Keep Databases Clean and Software Updated: Constant maintenance is imperative to ensure systems are performing at expected levels, and all tools are fully functioning. Also, make sure to run appropriate updates to maximize improvements in technology.
  • Reduce Duplicate Data: Multiple points of entry and human error are to blame for duplicates in your data. In order to reduce and remove duplicate data create a standardized contact platform, and deploy software designed to identify duplicates.

It’s inevitable that as long as there are humans working, there will be human errors happening, however, with the proper procedures in place, well-educated staff, and current technology, there’s no reason your company can’t improve the data quality in your database.

If you are contemplating a system change, please contact us to be sure that it is the right course of action rather than data quality. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

If you are seeking a Donor Software for Nonprofits , don't search without reading this!


3 Things a Non-Techie Exec. needs to know about Databases

There are 3 things you need to know about Database Analysis. We share here.

Are you contemplating a better way to manage your constituents in the new year? If so, there are three things that a nontechnical nonprofit leader should know about “The Database” before embarking on “The Search“. In this article, we cover three key items to ponder before attempting to obtain a database for your donor, member, or customer relationship needs.

Three Nonprofit Database Basics


1. The Minimum Expectation of a Database

The minimum expectation of a database is to store information properly. In its literal translation, there are many devices and items which could, for some, be construed as a database. For example, a telephone book is essentially a printed database. It can’t do much except be there for a manual alphabetical look-up resource but many could (and have) argued their “Rolodex” is as good as any in helping them.

However, moving into the 21st century, with nonprofit database software you should expect more than just storing data. Your database should gather, store, and group that data into their own related tables. Those tables, in turn, should be connected through common fields — a member or donor ID number, for example. By connecting those tables in a relational database with lookup fields, a good system can be used to segment your donors/members/customers information, find records more efficiently, reduce data redundancy, automate tasks, and a whole host of other capabilities today.

2. What are the limitations of a Database?

To be direct, there are clear limitations of what some databases were intended to do. Trying to have Excel, Microsoft Access, or FileMaker (common off the shelf database programs) to do more advanced functionality is a stretch for most. For example, Access/FileMaker are clearly database software programs, but they are not database software designed specifically to manage associations or nonprofit organizations. Access/FileMaker are not designed, out-of-the-box, to manage nonprofits and all of the processes they generally have to address. Things like customer management, donations, membership dues, events registrations, accreditation and certification, exhibit sales, sponsorships, committee management and reports are frequently found as baseline functionality within off-the-shelf nonprofit software packages. While these could be built into Access/FileMaker, you are not going to find them out-of-the-box when you purchase Access/FileMaker. And, database programming can be difficult, time-consuming and complex so not a likely option for most nontechnical laypersons in nonprofits today.

To be certain, there are many comprehensive solutions on the market which were written for the nonprofit industry. That noted, it’s important to start out by determining your specific needs today and think long-term to determine what you may need in the future before venturing out to find that “perfect software” option. And, don’t be so hard on yourself if you get started and then you find you need more. This reminds me of a famous army saying, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”. In other words, when your plan meets the real world, the real world wins. Nothing goes as planned or imagined in most cases.

3. Beware the implications of “Data Rot“? 

Now, let’s move back to our good old phone book. It’s not surprising that the telephone book is somewhat obsolete even before it hits our doorstep. People change addresses; women acquire new last names when they marry, etc. Likewise, databases — especially those with a large number of records — need data collection processes and timely updating for obvious reasons.

You would not want to begin an ambitious fund drive with a donors list that has not been updated for a year. Each inaccurate piece of information in your database is a missed opportunity to solicit the financial support you need to run your organization. The phenomenon of “data rot,” then, has to be factored into any database analysis, where accuracy is essential. Also, “data rot” can quickly deteriorate into data loss without reliable — and preferably offsite — data backup.

Finally, remember that database success is not a perfect science. But, you should implore some measures and processes to ensure good results. For example, I believe that donor and member self-service website access is a “must have” in most donor or member database systems today. In addition, you need to be sure that your database has “duplicate checking” or “cleansing” features. And, as you grow, you may need to consult with a database resource such as Updentity or  Wes Trochlil  at Effective Database Management to help maintain your databases integrity.

If you are embarking on a search for a database for the first time at your nonprofit, we would enjoy helping you find a database tool best suited for your specific needs. And, be sure to start out with our list of software options to help in your process. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.


If you are seeking a database for your nonprofit, don't search without reading this!


Bad Data Quality Is The Database Killer!

Bad Data is A Database Killer

Data Quality Is Critical In CRM Success

Data Quality is mission critical to any database.  In fact, it doesn’t matter how much money you spend on a new system, without the right information in the system and getting the best data out your nonprofit might as well save your time and money. It’s going to be a failure. In this article, I discuss the impact of bad data quality and the importance of planning and ongoing cleanup in a unified database (AMS or CRM) to ensure database success.

“Throwing the baby out with the bath water” is an expression which a partner of mine used quite frequently to describe his data migration projects. In essence, he used this expression to imply that when moving data (spreadsheets, access databases, email systems and the Rolodex file left by a former association founder) from one system to another be careful and check the good data and the bad data before bringing the information over. The baby, in this sense, represents the good data that can be preserved. The bath water, on the other hand, usually is dirty after the baby is washed and needs to be discarded, just like the data which is bad or useless.

Begin With The End In Mind In Your Nonprofit Database

Right now, you might have an array of information in various systems. Putting all that data to work over the years has resulted in a treasure trove of information, which you likely safeguard feverishly and spend lots of staff time keeping it current, right?

Before you embark on moving to a new system, it’s a good time to begin that long-delayed project of data maintenance and that much-needed data quality check to provide data clarity. Data migration is essentially taking the lifeblood of your organization and trying to successfully inject it into one software program that will put it to work so you can manage your association nonprofit far more efficiently with communications and reports to make good business decisions. Data migration is the move, and the new application is the destination.

The Challenges With Keeping Your Database Clean 

Obstacles on the journey of data quality include the following:

  • Your existing data may contain duplicate information.
  • Demographic data is wrong such as items used to solicit funds from donors like wealth, age, & estimated income .
  • You lack pertinent email information for your email marketing campaigns.
  • The data you want to migrate may not be up to the task in meeting the structure and objectives of your new system.


According to one Oracle white paper on the integrity of databases (You may download below):

“Without a sufficient understanding of both source and target, transferring data into a more sophisticated application will amplify the negative impact of any incorrect or irrelevant data, perpetuate any hidden legacy problems, and increase exposure to risk.”

Even if the data migration is as basic as converting an Excel spreadsheet to an MS Access database, the challenge can be daunting. While the database application allows quick imports, the new structure calls for greater consistency. Otherwise you have what is known as the “garbage-in-garbage-out” phenomenon.


The situation becomes far more complex if upgrade plans include adopting a sophisticated association management software. The best advice is to give data migration the equal attention it deserves alongside selecting the new software package. The latter is, of course, far more exciting, but, according to the above mentioned White Paper:

“…data migration planning is seen as a simple matter of shifting data from one bucket to another via a process that is a necessary administrative burden and an extra cost. Thus, planning is often left until too late and the required resources and the difficulty of the migration are frequently underestimated.”

Advice For Keeping Your Database Clean From Garbage

Finally, how do you keep your migrated data clean and robust over the lifetime of the new software package? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Instill consistency rules in your organization and build them into your applications
  • Ongoing duplicate checking processes
  • Continually update and cleanse your database with a third-party tool or service provider 

If your nonprofit organization is looking to get its data act together, and wants to preserve the information you have without throwing out the good data you have lovingly curated through these years, contact us.

We’ll help you find the tools and services your need from trusted experts such as Updentity who can help with ongoing data quality that will no doubt make the most out of your engagement efforts.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Data Quality Is the Killer for Database Integrity