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12 Ways Your Fundraising Data Can Go Bad

In a moment of pure frustration, a woman grabs the top of her head, slightly tugging at her hair. The other hand is resting on the back of her neck, likely as a response to mildly calm herself down as the data set she's working with is full of errors and miscalculated formulas.
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Most of you who work with nonprofit databases and CRMs probably recall the data conversion as an unpleasant experience. Honestly, with most of the stories we hear about previous conversions, we would have to agree. Luckily, that is not always the case.

Data Cleansing Makes the Future Bright

Let’s dig into the biggest reason most data conversions are unpleasant experiences. Ironically, it can also be the reason they turn out to be extremely pleasant experiences too! When data is cleansed properly during a conversion, the database tool can be easily and properly used by everyone. What a HUGE difference that makes! Imagine being able to easily create and more importantly TRUST reports coming from your database. When it is not, everyone is in for just the opposite, if not worse, an unusable database.

If the data being converted is a mess for one of the many reasons below it requires extra care, attention and most of all additional time by the team doing the conversion. Those factors make it difficult for all of the vendors trying to do conversions on a fixed price scale because those fixed prices are based upon using already created “standard” routines to convert the data.

A Dozen Reasons for Fundraising Data being a Mess

  1. Data being placed in the wrong fields rather than the ones intended to house such information
  2. End users change and the new person begins using different fields than were used before
    • The new person may begin doing it right
    • The new person may start doing it wrong
    • The new person may do it wrong for a different reason
  3. The database vendor added features which required changes that were never implemented
  4. The data was move into the current database with some sort of “standard” utility and it never was correct to begin with
  5. The NPO undertook a capital campaign and a consultant asked them to use the system in a different manner (perhaps even the proper manner), but now differences exist in data structure and usage
  6. Data was brought in improperly from a 3rd party caging service who simply used the format they used on another system
  7. The NPO is using a platform like where customizations are the norm and someone added a customization which caused a new data structure or usage.  (Some of our hardest conversions have resulted from such circumstances . . .)
  8. The NPO used a large number of fill in the blank custom fields rather than making a choice from a drop down list of standard options resulting in a wide variety of words for the exact same option in the exact same field
  9. The data in the current database is so bad part of the team started using outside spreadsheets or Outlook or who knows what to keep some portion of the data and it needs to be synched up and combined with the original data
  10. The current fundraising product does not allow mass email so a third party email solution like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp is used thereby creating another synching and combining issue
  11. Actual donor visit notes are kept on paper or in MS Word and must be synched up
  12. Other multiple databases were used for one reason or another

Do any of the above sound familiar? I am betting most of you reading this post have experienced at half or more of them. Here at Bloomerang, we have encountered every single one of them. Sadly, they usually come in groups of many of the factors – not just one or two.

Imagine the Difference Clean Data and a Fresh Start Can Make

Now for the extremely good news: cleansing the data and consolidating the data allows a wonderful fresh new start to happen. This does require a partner willing to make the proper modifications and adjustments to your data happen. The more frequently the number of items 1-12 above occur, the more adjustments will need to be made.

In fact, without such adjustments being handed carefully by knowledgeable professionals most nonprofits will have wasted the monies being spent on new database systems. We have seen such situations happen far too often when “standard conversion utilities” are utilized. Literally, it is 1 out 10 times that such standard utilities can be used with any chance of decent results.

Incredible Value Stems from Getting it Right!

Proper synching, consolidation, clean-up and modification allow the value of making a change to a database which can drastically improve results.

Yes, it takes meaningful conversation and engagement from both parties.

Only from such meaningful discussions can any conversion team truly understand the path your previous data has taken and how we make that data work best in the future. When you truly compare the investment for the conversion with the lifetime investment for the database to be used properly and fully it is an incredible value. The analogy a dear friend and mentor of mine used is comparing the investment in the data conversion to the investment in education/higher education degrees and the value they both bring in the future. I hope you agree with my mentor as much as I do, especially when you decide how to choose the partner for you next data conversion endeavor!

Bloomerang customers can sign up for a Database Health Check subscription and receive an annual database audit. Once complete, our team will work with your team to ensure the donor database is running at peak performance, uncover hidden insights, and provide recommendations that can help your nonprofit can succeed. Learn more about a Database Health Check.



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