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.

Data Rot Can Contaminate Your Associations Nonprofit Database

Your Donor and Member Database is contaminated? Need help!

What is data rot? The following definition from Wikipedia is as good as any:

“Data rot, or data decay, is a colloquial computing phrase for the gradual decay of storage media or an explanation for the degradation of a software program over time, even if ‘nothing has changed.’”

Note the allusion to both hardware and software. Count on your hardware wearing out or becoming obsolete about every five years. Here is an amusing observation found on the internet by Dag Spicer the Chief Content Officer of the Computer History Museum:

“If Moses had gotten the Ten Commandments on a floppy disk, it would never have made it to today.”

If the storage medium becomes like a dusty coffin, its contents — your data — also deteriorates over time, because life goes on as data remains static.

Causes and effects of data rot

Take your member, donors and constituents database, for example. According to a recent article from Updentity’s Benjamin Ashpole, Chief Executive Officer, and Brandy Coomer, Chief Interaction Officer found on Third Sector Today these experts cite the following statistics:

  • About 36 million Americans changed their address in 2013.
  • People change their mailing addresses at an overall rate of 11 percent.
  • Mobile and landline phone numbers change at a rate of 18 percent.
  • About 86 percent of women change their surnames when they marry.
  • 2 million people quit their job every month

What data rot means for nonprofits is that, as data becomes outdated:

  • each obsolete record is a lost opportunity to contact a prospective donor, volunteer or board member; and
  • poor data quality increases wasted time in bounced telephone calls, returned mail and overall administrative costs
  • resulting in bad customer service experiences.

Do you know the cost of Bad Data for your Nonprofit?

Prevention, treatment and cure

What nonprofits can do to prevent, forestall and cure data rot depends on the complexity and age of their data. The following are some basic steps:

1. Make sure your data entry methods include built-in safeguards against omissions, duplicates, incorrect zip codes, etc. CRM applications typically include data entry rules that can prevent common errors.

2. Remember the GIGO (garbage in-garbage out) rule. Someone should actually proofread every new data entry before finally sending it to your contact database.

3. Use interns, volunteers or staff downtime to do the necessary data scrubbing, personal contacts and follow-up to clean up data rot.

4. Review a software platform such as our business partner updentity that appends names, email addresses, phone numbers, mailing addresses, demographic information, and more to keep databases up-to-date. 

If you are contemplating a customer database change, it may not be the system which is broke. Rather, it may be the data and perhaps you simply need to call on more automated methods and computer modules described in our blog on Association Management Software.

Whatever your data rot problems or concerns, contact us. We can you find the resource you need to fix it!

We do not sell software, we listen, and solve problems!


Shitter Full? It may be time to clean up your Data

Shitter is Full
Click Pic for Video Enjoyment!

Is good old Uncle Eddie needed at your Association?

At our home, one of our favorite classic movies is “Christmas Vacation” with Chevy Chase from the 80’s. You know the show, that’s the one where good old Uncle Eddie shows up in his Recreational Vehicle (RV) and crashes the family vacation. Specifically, there is one scene that reminds us of something that we all have to do with our database systems, clean it out!

In fact, many associations may find it almost as bad as cleaning out the waste from the RV receptacle like “Cleaning out the Shitter”.

Data Management is Critical for Databases!

So, is your “Shitter” Full? If so, how do you cleanse and purge your receptacle of data?

Data cleansing is the process of altering data in your association database to make sure that it is accurate and correct. There are many ways to pursue data cleansing in various software and data storage architectures; most of them center on the careful review of data sets and the protocols associated with any particular data storage technology. Data cleansing is also known as data scrubbing.

In more complex operations, data cleansing can be performed by computer modules like iMerge for an Association Management system called iMIS. These programs can check the data with a variety of rules and procedures decided upon by the user. A program could be set to delete all records that have not been updated within the previous five years, correct any misspelled words and delete any duplicate copies. A more complex program might be able to fill in a missing city data based on a correct postal code or change the prices of all items in a database to another type of currency. Many association management systems today even have postal verification software like Accumail.

So, how do you know your “Shitter” is full? Below you will find the top questions to ask to determine if your database (Shitter) needs help from good ole Uncle Eddie:
  1. Can you rely on your data to send out your dues billing statements, email campaigns, or conference solicitations?
  2. Is your member data missing important pieces which make records incomplete?
  3. Does you staff have separate excel spreadsheets due to lack of “Faith” in the information stored?
  4. Does it suffer from having duplication of records?
  5. Does it have dead contact data and accounts which no longer exist?
  6. Is there something more you could add to enhance your Association Software data?
  7. Has it been more than 2 years since you reviewed or surveyed your constituents for current data?
  8. Do you feel comfortable sending important statistical data to your Board?

What is the cost of not cleaning up your Shitter?

It is pretty simple. Nonprofit Association Management data is critical for your organization. Bad data costs time, efficiency, money & results. And, duplication & redundant Association Management data provides you distorted reports & business intelligence.

What is the best way to clean your data?

  1. Allow your members or donors access to their data online. It’s easier to manage the exceptions that input 1000 plus new or updated information by your staff.
  2. Purchase a software program to regularly cleanse and scrub your data regularly. This should be a task which your organization commits to each month and especially before large campaigns.
  3. If you have neither the resources above, hire a temp to do it! If you do not have the time in house, hire someone to do it for you.

For most, cleaning out your database is one of the last things on the list of “to do’s”.

But, if you don’t take the time to perform this very critical step in your nonprofit, you will likely have more than your fair share of problems.

We can help! Please Contact Us for more information on our data cleansing techniques and tools.