Ellie Burke
Ellie Burke
Inputting CRM data into a CRM on a laptop.

8 Simple Tips to Keep Your CRM Data Clean

Data is not worthwhile if it’s not accurate.”

– Sarah D. Hale, Consultant and Classy Certified Partner

By definition, a constituent relationship management system (CRM) helps you better understand supporters’ habits and preferences by tracking and collecting data. But when multiple team members are all entering information into the same system, your data is subject to the risk of human error. Whether it’s a typo or that half of your staff enters “Street” and the other half “St.,” inconsistencies can make it difficult to analyze the information.

To avoid invalidating your data, you should set consistent procedures on how everyone should import, export, and handle data within your system. No matter what size CRM you use, a set policy and procedures document creates a system of rules that provide answers to the various if/then scenarios your team may encounter.

According to consultant and Classy certified partner Sarah D. Hale, even if you use a more basic system, when you set up policy and procedures ahead of time and train your staff on their implementation, you set your organization up for a successful migration to a more robust system down the road.

To find out how nonprofits can create or reconsider their policy and procedure, we sat down with Hale for further insight.

Hale is a digital marketing strategist who enjoys helping nonprofits optimize their communications, fundraising, and technology. She has led international brands and organizations in developing successful marketing and digital promotion strategies that have reached hundreds of thousands of people.

“The quicker a nonprofit can get on a good system and have their team using it well…it’s going to really help them do their jobs better with communication and could optimize them being able to grow faster because they have a better understanding of their audience.”

Use the following tips to revisit your policies and procedures for the different situations that arise while using your CRM. Establish and communicate these guidelines upfront to empower your entire staff to keep your CRM data clean and accurate. When you are confident in your data, you can make informed decisions that benefit your organization, donor base, and ultimately, the people you serve.

Formatting Tips to Keep Data Clean and Accurate

1. Name

Consistent formatting for donors’ names is crucial.

“Is it formal, is it informal, what is their nickname, is it capitalized?” – Hale

Whatever you decide, create a standard to eliminate error and prevent staff from having to ever make assumptions. Anticipate every possible situation you may encounter around this information. Your team should know what to do if a field is left blank, or if your donor’s name changes.

“It could be something as simple as updating the name and then in the note section for that contact you include the maiden name in there.” – Hale

2. Address

If a donor has a change of address, how do you handle the new information? Do you delete the old address entirely? Decide if you will keep older addresses in a secondary field and communicate this across your team.

Pro Tip: Hale recommends to format states and streets in long form. When abbreviations are used inconsistently across data, it can create problems when you go to pull the data later.

“It’s more of a stylistic thing, but it gets people in the habit of, we have a set way that we enter these things into the system. ” – Hale

3. Deposit Date

Consider the date you will use when your team manually enters donations. Do you use the date you enter the check into the system? Or do you use the date you received the check? Hale advises to set a standard to allow you to quickly find the donation in the future.

4. Spouses and Households

Use your system to indicate when two or more of your donors share the same household. Depending on the system you use, you may be able to link the contacts, or at least write a note in each of them separately. This step not only allows you to personalize your donor communications, it can also save you money.

“When there are couples living together, you can actually save on mailing by sending it to one household instead of sending two individual ones.” – Hale

5. Job Titles

Just as states and streets should be spelled out, so too should job titles and positions. If some donors are listed as directors, and others as “Dir.” the inconsistency makes the term hard to search across your system. Advise your team to spell out job titles in order to save time when you go to pull reports later.

6. Notes

A notes field is a great way to catch key pieces of information that should be considered before your team interacts with particular constituents.

“One thing that happens in a lot of systems is that people will use notes to keep track of everything, but what we would recommend is really only use notes for things that aren’t going to change.” – Hale

Pro Tip: Hale suggests you fill out all of the possible CRM fields first before using a note. This way, notes are seen as highly important pieces of information to be considered and not a simple “catch all.”

7. Task Names

If your team uses your CRM to assign internal tasks, you should use organized and consistent task names to help team leaders manage action items and analyze reports.

Hale provides the example of an initial thank you letter. If one team member’s task says “Thank You Card” and another’s is called “Acknowledgement Letter,” the team is unable to quickly distinguish the similarities or differences between these two assignments. Establish a standard for all types of tasks and you will ensure your data is accurate when you generate reports to check your team’s workflow.

A CRM with clean, accurate data can help position your organization to scale and grow. These benefits can multiply when your CRM integrates with other types of software. An integration with fundraising software, for example, improves your data’s accuracy by eliminating the human error associated with constant exporting, importing, and adjusting.

According to Hale, when you can trust your data, you are able to better understand your supporters and make informed decisions that cater to their needs. This enables targeted campaigns and allows the development team to test different strategies.

“It leads to stronger relationships with your supporters, and more donations and commitment from them.  It’s moving them from maybe a one-time donation to actually feeling like they are a part of a team, because you’re able to communicate and interact with them on that level because of the data that you’re gathering about them.”

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  • Janet Douglass JosephsHouse

    On the formatting of streets and states in long form. A a post service event I attended the Post Office specifically said that all mail should use the designated abbreviations, for states, but also for street road, terrace, court, and so on. At that point they intended charging extra to all non-profit permit users who actually did not abbreviate and abbreviate correctly. I think they backed off the surcharge but it is my belief that they still expept envelopes to be written according to their practice and not long form. So if you print your envelopes form your CRM they should be entered appropriately. See publication at http://pe.usps.gov/cpim/ftp/pubs/Pub28/pub28.pdf

  • Janet Douglass JosephsHouse

    On the formatting of streets and states in long form. A a post service
    event I attended the Post Office specifically said that all mail should
    use the designated abbreviations, for states, but also for street road,
    terrace, court, and so on. At that point they intended charging extra to
    all non-profit permit users who actually did not abbreviate and
    abbreviate correctly. I think they backed off the surcharge but it is my
    belief that they still expept envelopes to be written according to
    their practice and not long form. So if you print your envelopes form
    your CRM they should be entered appropriately. See publication at http://pe.usps.gov/cpim/ftp/pu

    • Ellie

      Hi, Janet. Thanks so much for reading and for this valuable insight! As Hale suggests in her advice, these tips are ultimately stylistic decisions for each organization that encourage you to set a standard for how you enter information across your team. Your suggestion to conform to USPS standards for printing purposes is a great point to consider when setting these standards at your organization. Thanks for contributing to this discussion!

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