Salesforce for Nonprofits: An Admin’s Guide to Duplicate Management

8 min
Terri Harel

Duplicates are a recurring challenge for anyone who manages data between systems. If you manage data or a constituent relationship management system (CRM) for your nonprofit, you likely ask yourself regularly how you can reduce this time-consuming and pesky problem.

We sat down with our resident Salesforce expert and Classy for Salesforce support representative, Julian Joseph, for his advice on how nonprofits can handle duplicates, what tools to use, and how to manage expectations across your organization. Julian was previously the Salesforce admin at Liberty in North Korea, an LA-based nonprofit.

Why Duplicates Happen

It may appear obvious, but to manage duplicates effectively, we need to have a truly deep understanding of why they happen.

Despite all the technology available to us, duplicates happen because computers aren’t as smart as humans…yet (even though advancements in AI help). Computer programs operate on a tight set of rules. Determining what is a duplicate, in the CRM world, sometimes takes a human touch.

Image of Julian Joseph

Ideally, you mitigate duplicates by creating automated processes to prevent them, but at the same time, you run the risk of creating more problems. For example, the computer might start combining information that shouldn’t be combined.”

Julian Joseph

Let’s take John Smith. It’s likely more than one John Smith has donated to your organization. How does Salesforce determine whether or not these John Smiths are the same person?

“It’s true we’re getting close. Algorithms are smart. But, when it comes to databases, a program might not have enough context (or the right information) to determine duplicates. When you think about it, you’re much more than your first name, last name, and email address. If that’s all your organization collects from your donors, though, that’s very little data with which to make a decision.”

Set Expectations

As much as we’d like there to be, there’s no silver bullet for duplicates. As long as you’re collecting data, your organization will need a process to dedupe it.

Image of Julian Joseph

Expect for deduping to be a regular process. There are many tools to mass correct and even automate deduping in intelligent ways, so you can find processes to make it faster and easier, but there’s always going to be unique cases that you’ll have to resolve yourself.”

Julian Joseph

To set expectations with your team or boss, first recognize that you’ll always have duplicates. Then, work together to identify what key fields and unique combinations should tell the system a contact matches in a way that makes sense for your organization’s operations. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself or your team for this exercise:

  • Why do we need to better manage duplicates?
  • What challenges are we facing right now?
  • What do we wish the system did that it’s not currently doing?
  • How do we expect staff to know this is a duplicate record?
  • What situations do we want to prevent?

Answering these questions thoroughly will help get the team on the same page and define a process that works well for your organization.

A few pro tips from Julian to follow up on this exercise:

  • Identify three to five fields that you always check to determine whether the record is a duplicate
  • When choosing fields, look for ones with the most data, so you ensure the system has as much context as possible (Field Trip is very helpful if you have a lot of fields)
  • Empower your team to use merge tools

Use Tools

You don’t have to do everything manually, though. Many tools exist to help you and your team manage duplicates.

Salesforce Duplicate Management

Good for: Prevention and automation when paired with Classy for Salesforce’s Enhanced Contact Matching

This is Salesforce’s tool for preventing duplicates. When your team attempts to create a new record that looks like a duplicate, based on the criteria you as an admin setup, a warning alerts the user that a potential duplicate exists.

Learn more about Duplicate Management by Salesforce

While Duplicate Manage alerts you about a possible duplicate, Classy for Salesforce uses “Enhanced Contact Matching” to automate the record selection process for incoming Classy data.

NPSP Contact Merge Tool

Good for: Cleaning up existing data on a one-off basis. Best for 1 to 10 duplicates.

Use this built-in NPSP tool once you see duplicates in your system and want to merge them into one account.

Learn how to use the NPSP Contact Merge Tool on the Power of Us Hub

DemandTools by CRMfusion

Good for: Mass Data Cleanup and Automated Cleanup

This tool is considered an industry standard for duplicate cleanup. While there is somewhat of a learning curve, even using 10 percent of its power can save hours of cleanup. Plus, its free for nonprofits.

Learn more about DemandTools on their website

salesforce duplicate management
Part of a handy table put together by ACF Solutions, a Salesforce implementation company that caters to higher ed and nonprofits, to assess what tools are best for specific situations.

Tips for Setting Up Integrations to Reduce Duplicates

Understand each platform’s data model and learn how they identify duplicates. Each platform may interact with Salesforce uniquely. Once you complete that initial research, your best bet is to consider updating your data so the tools you’re integrating can properly match. Now that you understand what fields you’ll focus on, what tools best fit your needs, and how your platforms’ data models work, then you’re ready to set up matching rules that works best for your organization.

To review, you need to understand how:

  1. Your data and how your organization identifies duplicates
  2. Third-party tools work
  3. You can modify them to fit your data needs
  4. To modify the data to fit your tools
Image of Julian Joseph

“Learning how the tools work is really important. Tools usually match on specific rules for good reasons. There are usually a lot of best practices baked into the suggested matching rules provided. You’ll maintain cleaner data and gain more context for individuals. Over time, your data’s power increases.” 

Julian Joseph

For example, with Classy for Salesforce, our vision is to give you as much Classy data as possible in your Salesforce instance. We  integrate with as many Salesforce and NPSP standard fields as possible, so data from other platforms and third-party tools play nice. Salesforce employs many best practices around those standard fields, so it’s important we build the integration around them. Classy’s Salesforce technical product manager, Tim Gumto, works closely with the Salesforce.org team to ensure we maintain strong out-of-the-box functionality in line with those best practices.

“We provide settings to ensure you control your data and, with tools like Enhanced Contact Matching, you can implement the processes that work best for your organization. We want to give you the fullest picture of these contacts so you can use that information in the future.”

Salesforce duplicate management for any database manager or administrator can be a challenge. Keep challenging yourself to investigate the data you’re collecting and ask yourself, what can you can do with the data? Why do you need the information? What do you want to do with it? This will help you maintain strong data integrity and put best practices in place for long-term success.

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