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!


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


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.