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Supporter data hygiene: 6 tips to ensure your database stays in good shape

There is nothing worse than finding out a charity communication has caused distress. We have all heard horror stories of mailings mistakenly sent out to a recently deceased file, or phone calls made to vulnerable people, but a more common issue is when a communication is sent to a previous occupierís old address and so never reaches its intended target.

These are all instances that result from inadequately maintained supporter data. Not only can it cause an individual to suffer unnecessary distress, but for charities it can damage relationships and reputations, reduce response rates and income, and hike up campaign costs. The opportunity here is to clean up the data and put in place regular cleansing processes. These donít have to be complicated and can help you to be sure your data is as affective as it can be.

Of course, under GDPR, personal data very much remains the property of the individual consumer. There is a clear onus on the organisation collecting and using personal data to look after it in order to remain compliant. This includes doing everything possible to keep it clean, accurate, and up to date with supportersí contact permissions. You must ensure that anyone who opts out of communications is removed from your database swiftly. If inaccuracies are found, take every reasonable step to ensure that these records are flagged and rectified as quickly as possible.

As well as helping your organisation demonstrate its compliance with GDPR, a healthy database avoids potentially costly fines and reputational damage. A clean and accurate database reaps dividends when it comes to developing and maintaining long-term supporter relationships and successful fundraising, thanks to the valuable insight it provides.

It is impossible to stop data from decaying; people move, change their names, their contact details and preferences and pass away. So how can you ensure you keep your supporter data in top shape?

Top tips for maintaining clean & accurate data

  • Firstly, make sure data is inputted correctly at the point of collection. Automate collection where possible, verifying it at this stage rather than adding another step later, and making sure all required data fields are mandatory. 
  • Ensure that staff and volunteers are trained in how to collect and input data accurately when the responsibility falls to them.
  • Even if itís clean and accurate when added to your database, data needs regular maintenance to keep it that way. Peopleís circumstances change, so data accuracy and quality naturally deteriorate over time. Keep it up to date by regularly verifying it using the basic data hygiene techniques of PAF cleansing to ensure name and address details are correct, and suppression and deduplication to remove deceased, out of date, inaccurate, and repeated records. There are numerous data suppression tools available to help this process.
  • No solution available is ever going to give 100% coverage, but that is no excuse to do nothing and allow the data to decay, you must act.
  • Look for ways to encourage people to inform you of changes. Take the opportunity to check details with supporters when they contact you, or vice versa. Include clearly visible prompts in communications scripts to be informed of any changes.Make it easy for the recipients of misdirected mail to tell you that it hasnít reached the intended supporter. Include easy-to-fill sections on envelope outers to prompt them to give you this information. Placing it on the outside also makes it quicker and more cost effective for organisations to use this information, helping to update your database faster.

With both the public and regulators demanding more from charities in terms of how they treat supporters and their data, maintaining a clean and accurate database is a key contributor to maintaining trust, reputation, and compliance.

Of course, good data hygiene also reaps dividends when it comes to campaign success rates. In a sector where the service a charity provides to its beneficiaries is so reliant upon its supportersí help, itís an area none can afford to overlook.

Written by Suzanne Lewis, Managing Director of charity data specialist, Arc Data.

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