Tame the Data Beast

By: Anna Patty

My daughter’s favorite movie (at least for this week) is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Everyone knows the story, Belle comes to live in the Beast’s castle in order to free her father who had been imprisoned. The beast is a cold-hearted monster that is incapable of seeing good in people. Over time Belle brings the Beast out of his shell and helps him to realize he can be a good person and is capable of love. In the fairytale ending to the movie, the Beast is released from the curse that turned him into a monster and returns to his previous form as a handsome prince. As fairytales go, Belle and her prince live happily ever after.

If you need any sort of data to run your organization or business, you may feel like your constituent relationship management system (CRM) is the beast. Unlike Belle, you may not see any good in it. Your CRM is the cold-hearted monster that is holding your data hostage. The real truth is that your CRM is your prince (or princess) and wants to help you be better and more efficient in your work.

In order to make your CRM work for you, the first thing that you need to remember is that bad data will destroy even the best CRM. Let’s look at an example. Jenny works for a nonprofit that provides serves families struggling to succeed. She has a CRM with 4,000 people that she knows support her organization. Of those people, 1,000 have donated in the last two years. Every time Jenny tries to pull a list to send a letter to the individuals that support her organization to ask for donations, she spends hours cleaning up her list and trying to make sure she is contacting the correct people. In the end, Jenny sends the letter to everyone in her CRM to make sure she doesn’t miss anyone. She ends up getting several calls and emails letting her know that some individuals have passed away and others are no longer interested. She does get a number of donations and meets her goal, but it is diluted by all of the time and money she spent sending to a large list.

Are you Jenny? Are you sick and tired of spending hours sifting through a list, only to send your ask to someone who passed away five years ago. Your CRM is a beast – cursed – and not helping you do your job or reach your goals. There are a few things you can do to fix your data:

  • Train all staff and volunteers to enter data in the same way. How are you listing spouses? Use upper and lowercase letters and punctuation.
  • Track your donors. Pay attention to returned mail and mailing reports from your printer. Keep your ear to the ground (or social media). Scan obituaries. Stay aware and update your data constantly.
  • Make your data work for you. No CRM is one-size-fits-all. Make a list of what your organization needs now and in the future from a CRM. From eTapestry, to Salesforce to DonorPerfect and Raiser’s Edge there are a ton of options. Your job is to find the right one for you. If you don’t need a data system with tons of bells and whistles, don’t get it. You may already have the perfect software, just waiting to be released from the bad data curse.

So, you looked at your data, you trained staff and volunteers and you made sure your CRM is the right one for you. BUT, you STILL have tons of bad data that was built up over years. Now what? Each case is different, but the easiest way to fix bad data is in small bites. Start with something simple like upper and lower case spellings and punctuation. Most CRM systems have the ability to export, import and update. Make sure you have someone on your team that is tech savvy and can make the necessary changes. You can take control and fix a lot of bad data by taking it one step at a time. It may take awhile, but the easy data pulls and streamlined lists will be worth it. You can find your fairytale ending and discover the prince underneath the data beast.

Need a heroine to calm your data beast? Give us a call or stop by the office.

Anna Patty Communication Strategist
Anna Patty is a communication strategist with a decade of nonprofit development experience and our resident “data geek” at MCS, she gets oddly enthusiastic about calming data beasts on a daily basis.