“But I don’t wanna clean my database!” by LisaCaitlin Perri

Nov 18, 2015 | All Posts, Campaign Counsel, Fundraising Counsel


It’s rare (but not unheard of) that anyone really looks forward to performing quality assurance checks on their database. Believe me, though: your future self, the rest of the staff and returning donors will thank you. Plus, over time, the process will get easier. If you have never attempted database cleanup before or if you’re unsure about your next steps, take a deep breath and read on.

Linked below are some guidelines for cleaning up your database. As you review what the author has to share, know that improved data management can become an ongoing priority rather than a chore in your organization. Your day-to-day work will feel more manageable, communication with other departments (if you have more than one) will get better, the accuracy of reporting will be maintained, and your donors will have no reason to question management of their personal contact information and giving details.

These articles refer to the “Spring Cleaning” approach, and you might find that the timing suits you. However, you may want to chip away at some of these items at the close of the calendar year through end-of-year mailings so you don’t have so much to do in the spring.

We suggest the following objectives with action steps.

1. Protect your organization’s database.

a) Conduct a back up (also the first thing recommended by the article linked below). If the database service you use is backed up remotely by the vendor or by a third party, be sure you review their data recovery policy before making big changes.

b) Download or install the most recent version of the database application. You probably have it, but it’s worth double-checking.

c) Review user listings and security settings to delete or change access privileges for anyone whose employment or involvement with the nonprofit has changed.

2. Reduce returned mail piles.

a) Check for duplicates, a process that can be run automatically by most standard software packages available. You will have to review the results and make selections about which records to merge or delete. Be sure that you are not losing any critical donor info or gift records during this process.

b) Validate addresses in your database by simply running queries to catch missing address parts like zip codes or cities, or by running a check against the National Change of Address (NCOA) dataset. Focus your efforts first on donors who have given in the past 3-5 years.

c) Make sure that no one is on your mailing list who has requested electronic-only communication, who has requested no communication, or who is deceased.

3. Before you need it, identify the best contact info for key donors and prospects.

a) Identify the top 10-20% of your donor and prospect pool, and make sure you have accurate email addresses and phone numbers on their records.

b) Put interns and volunteers to work to find missing information. Most of the time, simple internet searches on whitepages.com or spokeo.com can fill in the blanks. When using the internet, validate the info by finding a second independent and recent source before adding it to your database.

c) As you move forward, request preferred contact info from your donors (and see that it makes its way into the database!). This saves everybody’s time and you’ll be ready to provide the info when it is needed.

Now, go clean up your database while you are still inspired!

“Spring Cleaning Your Database,” on npENGAGE

“Spring Cleaning Your Database, Part 2,” on npENGAGE