Clean Data is Cool

In direct marketing, it’s all about the data.  But what if your data isn’t up to snuff?


While data hygiene may not be the most exciting topic, it is absolutely critical when it comes to having a successful direct marketing program. Dirty data can lead to inaccurate analysis resulting in misguided decision-making – which can cost an organization tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Additionally, it can lead to a variety of problems, including wasted printing costs, misleading metrics, missed opportunities, or even worse, a tarnished brand.


Yet the fact remains, it’s easy to introduce errors into your database. Whether you are merging databases, undergoing a database conversion, or have multiple people entering data in different ways, errors happen.


As such, the process of data hygiene should be part of the regular workflow of your organization. Here are a few tips to check your data and ensure a regular review in order to keep your database clean and supporting your program.

  1. Start with an assessment of your data to confirm accuracy and look for potential issues: Audit your systems to determine where potential problems exist and how much of your data is outdated or inaccurate. Pay attention to the small things! Small anomalies in your data can lead to bigger issues. Review coding structures, attribute codes, gift information and the data entry process.
  2. Standardize data entry: Standardizing the way information is entered into your database will limit the potential for errors. Without data standards, data can be entered into your database in different formats and potentially miss important donor information – which may make it impossible to use your data correctly. Ensure clear communication with the team on these standards.
  3. Develop a cleanup plan: Once your assessment is complete, start with the most pressing issues. For example, identify duplicates and merge records accordingly. Duplicate contacts can lead to a disjointed donor experience. It also creates cost inefficiencies that will be harmful to overall net revenue goals.
  4. Test the systems: One of the best ways to determine potential issues is to test your systems. Make test gifts (across channels) to see first-hand things like how/if your gift is being acknowledged, salutations are being used and what your next ask or offer is.  Knowing how your gift was made may also point to any attribution challenges on the horizon. This real-time data can be invaluable as you work to ensure optimal data hygiene.
  5. Create an ongoing process: Maintaining clean data is more than a one-time spring cleaning. Establish standard operating procedures, along with a schedule, to ensure that database maintenance remains front and center for the team. Ensure that everyone involved with data entry or file updates understands and adheres to the established business rules. Plan regular check-in meetings with team members to review issues and address questions.


We know!  In the process of strategic innovation, focusing on data hygiene can seem monotonous, if not a bit arduous.  However, clean data is the foundation of any innovation, and should be an ongoing focal point in any strategic advancement plan.



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12355 Sunrise Valley Dr, Suite 240 Reston, VA 20191

Candice Briddell

Candice Briddell, Managing Partner and Co-Owner, has worked within the fundraising and marketing industry for nearly twenty years and has been a part of the MINDset team for over a decade. Prior to that, she was integral in the retention marketing program at AOL.