We all know how a new year’s resolution works for the majority of people… You’re all for it on January 1, the first week goes off with ease. Week 2, not so easy, but you still manage. In week 3 other priorities take precedence, and then week 4…. Resolution? What Resolution?

This may be the case in your personal life, but it doesn’t have to be the case when it comes to your nonprofit data.  I know how it goes! You run a mailing list or report and see errors that need to be fixed. You jot it down or make a mental note to go back. What happens? You forget about it until the next list.

There is no time like the present to start being diligent about clean data! Here are a few items you can start with, along with some ideas for easy clean-up, to get you started:

  1. Prioritize: Identify a couple of areas in your database that need attention. Set aside time to make the changes necessary so that these are no longer trouble areas. Maybe there are certain tasks that can be done on a monthly basis. Solution: Set a calendar reminder for an hour on the first Tuesday of the month to do these tasks.
  2. Duplicate Records: This is a common one that is tossed to the side as a “later” project.  Just do it! Most data systems have a merge tool that allows you keep one record, delete another, and no information is lost.  It’s easier than you think to have duplicates…  A&B Co is probably the same as A & B Company. Joe P. Van Dyke is likely he same person as Joseph P.  VanDyke. Solution: Set up some basic data entry standards to address little issues like these can save time from bigger issues occurring later down the road. This might include spacing in names like “A&B” previously mentioned, using full names, spelling out certain words like Association or Foundation without abbrevations, or how/when to use the word “The” at the front of an organization name.
  3. Table Entries: Your tables are what make up your drop-down lists anywhere in the database. Job titles, note titles, appeals, campaigns, solicitors…. Data entry errors happen, just don’t forget to clean them up! Solution: You can typically hide old appeals (we LOVE it when your appeals are year specific!), and sort them into a manageable list; as is the case with most drop down lists in your tables. Board Members as solicitors, etc.
  4. Blank Fields: If there’s a piece of information you’re collecting on every single donor record or gift, there’s a good chance it may have been missed a few times in the entry process. Solution: You can easily set up smartlists or queries to search for any blank fields like donor category, gift appeal, etc.
  5. Reconcile: You don’t want to hunt for a missing $25 donation that accounting has on record, but you don’t at the end of the year! Sometimes donations come in online, or in a random envelope that doesn’t pass through the development department first.  Solution: Establish a monthly practice of meeting and reconciling donations with someone from your accounting or finance team. Make you recorded exactly what they recorded.

One practice that can help in eliminating some of these cleanups is to establish a database policies and procedures manual. Even though “what if you get hit by a bus” analogy is hypothetical, he day may come when you have an illness, or even leave the organization. Someone needs to be able to jump in and work their way through basic data entry. We believe that successful organizations have great data!