Too Many Data Hygiene Projects: Where Do I Start?

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Guest Post from Amanda Jarman, President of Fundraising Nerd

As much as every fundraising data manager dreams of a 100% pristine donor database, realistically, any organization with more than a year or two of donor history is bound to have funky data. And there often aren’t enough hours in the day to deal with all of it. If you have a long list of data hygiene issues, where do you start? And is it ever okay to leave bad/broken/dirty/weird data alone?

At Fundraising Nerd, we look at data hygiene through three primary lenses:

  1. Donor stewardship
  2. Ability to accurately report on dollars raised
  3. Increasing effectiveness

If a data hygiene project does not improve one of these three critical areas, it may not be worth tackling. If it does touch on one of these areas, then it probably is.  And items 1 and 2 (donor stewardship and accurate fundraising reporting) are both non-negotiable: you must tackle hygiene issues that are standing in the way of these mission-critical functions.


Donor Stewardship

The most important of these lenses is donor stewardship. If a hygiene issue is impacting your ability to build strong relationships with your donors, then it needs to be remedied. Examples may include name and salutation issues or missing recognition credit (a.k.a. “soft credit”).

How do you know if an issue impacts donor stewardship? First, you may hear about it from donors, particularly your board members. Secondly, think through your donor communication and stewardship processes and identify anything that makes it difficult to: 

  • communicate with donors in general (mailing labels and salutations, missing or inaccurate contact data)
  • thank donors for their gifts (acknowledgment processes)
  • recognize donors for their gifts (soft credits, honor roll listings)
  • communicate the impact of giving (gift designations, soft credits)

Analyze Your Fundraising Activity

Your ability to analyze your fundraising activity is next on the list. If you are not able to consistently and accurately report on fundraising results, you’ve got trouble. You will need to deal with the hygiene issues impacting your fundraising reporting.

One note on analyzing fundraising activity: you do not need to be able to compare apples to apples for all time. Gift entry practices may change over the years, and that’s okay if you have a clear understanding of what has changed and why. This is where database documentation, how-tos that are custom to your organization, can save the day.

When undertaking any data hygiene project that changes how gifts are coded, ask yourself how far back you need to be able to reliably compare year over year data. That answer guides how far you may decide to “reach back” to do gift cleanup.  And then make sure you document what has changed in your organization’s database documentation. (And if you don’t have database documentation, that’s probably one of the primary contributors to your hygiene issues.)

Keep in mind that you still must clear hurdle 1: donor stewardship. If inconsistent or missing gift coding is leading to inaccurate donor giving histories, then you must prioritize that cleanup. If it’s just a matter of being able to cleanly compare event or direct mail revenue for the last 20 years, that’s less of a critical issue.


Increasing Effectiveness

Finally, apply the lens of effectiveness. Will the work of fundraising be easier or fundraising results be better as a result of tackling this data hygiene issue? If the answer is yes, then it’s probably worth it. Some data hygiene projects may make it easier to get in touch with your constituents to cultivate and solicit them, or to create personalized segments to better engage prospective donors. 

Examples may include obtaining updated contact information or cleaning up engagement information like event attendance or volunteer status.  And if you’re doing a database screening with iWave, you’ll absolutely want to make sure you have clean and accurate address data in advance of submitting your prospect file. Good address data will allow you to maximize your screening budget by getting the most accurate results possible since the screening relies on address data to match your donors against iWave’s data sources.

If you’d like to learn more about how to plan and implement a data cleanup project, then please join us on June 17th, 2020 at 12 EST, when Amanda will present the webinar: Data Hygiene Before & After Screening. We’ll discuss how to identify and prioritize problems; data enhancement options; what you can do in house to get your data clean and keep it clean; and how to build buy-in for your efforts.



About the author: Amanda Jarman is the President of Fundraising Nerd (, where she helps nonprofit organizations use their donor data and databases to build constituent relationships and raise more money.

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