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Data – key tips for keeping it usable in your CRM

Melanie May | 16 February 2022 | News

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Data health is a critical contributor to fundraising success. The accuracy of what’s held in a fundraising CRM is what enables charities to understand, communicate with, and engage supporters effectively.

So whether a charity accomplishes this or ends up wasting valuable money and resources – and possibly annoying people – instead with too frequent or irrelevant communications all hinges on its quality.

Keeping it in good condition then is vital.


Why your supporters are wealthier than you think... Course by Catherine Miles. Background photo of two sides of a terraced street of houses.

Rob Jones, CEO at Qbase says:

“The more you understand your supporters, the greater chance you have of engaging with them using the right messages at the right time. Without that basis of good quality data, you are just guessing.”

But charities can run into a number of issues with the data they feed into and hold in their CRM, from issues with verification and standardisation, to duplication, and data protection regulation compliancy.

So, what key things do you need to do to keep your data usable and to ensure your charity gets the most out of it – and your CRM – as possible?

Essentially, data records need to be accurate, complete, added in a uniform way, duplicate free, and up to date.

Here are some tips.

Think about what you want to get out of your data

Before you start, what is it that you actually want from your data? Working this out will require talking to all stakeholders to get the bigger organisation-wide picture of what’s needed, and this will help direct both your data collection, and what you put into your CRM.

Sian Basker, Co-Chief Executive of Data Orchard says:

“Often we just want somewhere to put our data because our spreadsheets are falling over, or our old system is no longer supported, so there’s much more emphasis on what you’re going to put into it as opposed to what you’re going to get out. My top recommendation would be to think really hard about this and to involve non data people and ask what information they need to get out of it before you start thinking about what you’re going to put in.”

Collect what you need

What data do you actually need to be able to maintain supporter relationships effectively? Considering this will reduce the number of fields that have to be filled in and so the likelihood of errors and incomplete fields creeping in, particularly at that point of contact creation.

Make sure you’ve brought all of your data into it

Even with a CRM in place it’s quite possible that some people or teams will still be working from their own records. But if you’re to get that complete picture of your data, this needs to be addressed, and all these disparate sources brought together within it.

Qbase’s Jones says:

“If you have some people working from the CRM, and others working from their own records, you need to address this for a complete picture. Sometimes, organisations have traditionally held several silos of data for various reasons, but again these need to be brought together for a full picture. Bringing databases together could expose crossover between the two and provides an opportunity for you to understand your audience further and to potentially save resources.”

Put data management rules in place

A CRM is likely to be accessed and data inputted by a variety of people and teams within an organisation. Getting firm data management rules in place that everyone follows is essential for ensuring consistency with data capture for example. This will help to cut down on issues such as incomplete records and duplicates, and maintain data quality.

Build in dedupe processes & suppression

Standardisation and verification issues can lead to a duplicate record problem – Jennifer, Jenny and Jen could all be the same person for example, while address verification can fail because someone living at no.6 has given their house a name which might be linked to the postcode but not to the house number, for example.

Creating automated routines when setting up a CRM can help reduce these issues so this is a good thing to add to your requirements list when planning its implementation.

Stephen O’Neill, Marketing Manager at Fundraising Kit says:

“Having duplicate contacts in your CRM can lead to inaccurate data collection, unreliable records, and skewed fundraising metrics. Also, if you often send the same message to duplicate emails, you can decrease your sender reputation, and eventually, your emails won’t land in your contacts’ inboxes. Ensure you have a CRM that automatically reviews donor names and email addresses to spot duplicates.”

Matthew Tamea, Solutions Director at Wood for Trees adds:

“Identification of duplicates via name and address matching can also be improved through the import and management of higher quality data in the first place. For example, PAF matching records at point of capture means that there is a better chance of finding potential duplicates through standardised address format, structure and content.


“As well as PAF matching services, organisations can also benefit from ensuring that common third-party suppressions are maintained against their supporter records. Services like tagging deceased and goneaway flags can be essential to prevent communicating with those supporters who are no longer present at a location.”

Make data cleaning a regular activity

Because data constantly slips out of date as people move, die, change their name, or input their details slightly differently on different occasions or through different channels, cleaning and suppression also needs to be an ongoing process that’s written into an organisation’s data strategy and policies.

Suzanne Lewis, Founder and Managing Director at Arc Data says:

“Looking after your data is essential. Keeping it up to date and cleansing regularly will pay huge dividends in your campaign results. If this were not reason enough to do it, you have a responsibility to your supporters to manage their data correctly. This means following best practice guidance around data verification and cleaning your data against the various suppression files available (change of address, deceased, etc), as well as the rules around how long you can hold data.


“Keeping your data clean is like painting the Forth Bridge – which isn’t a reason for not doing it but more of a reason for being conscious of the need to continually update and clean your data. If it’s a regular activity written into your data strategy and policies, you’ll be better placed to achieve optimum accuracy and results in every campaign and the truest insight from your analytics.”

And of course, keep on top of compliance

Data protection regulations must also be adhered to, so from a fundraising and compliance point of view there are a few basic tasks to keep on top of. Julia Porter, Partner at DPN Associates provides this quick checklist of essentials:

“Firstly, when you are collecting data, make sure you are clear about what you’re using it for. If you materially change the way in which data is used, make sure you’ve updated your privacy notice and provided sufficient warning of those changes as well as the option to opt out from future marketing.


“Make sure too that your data is accurate and up to date. Obviously you want to make sure your donors are receiving your messages but data protection law also calls out the importance of data accuracy.


“And, if you haven’t done so already, create a sensible retention policy covering donor data and make sure you follow through with data deletion. If you have lapsed donors who have not responded to your messages then bite the bullet and delete them securely. You don’t want to be a nuisance. In any event, messages sent to very old data are unlikely to elicit much of a response.”