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I laid in bed. It was 6am. And I really didn’t want to move…I knew that walking into work meant walking into an inherited fundraising database riddled with duplicate records, bad gift coding, and missing data….and people would want lists and reports.

It meant I would spend so much time manipulating data in Excel that I didn’t have time to actually clean up the database. It was exhausting.

That was a Tuesday in 2010.

I’d been blindly sucked into what I now call “Database Groundhog Day” where dirty data and frustration seemed to be the status quo, and nothing ever changes…

Should I just live in this broken database?

No way!

That was me ten years ago, and I’m so glad I took a stand.

I ended up whipping that database into shape – making it a priority – and as I did it, I built a universal system to help everyone in “Database Groundhog Day” break free from the cycle. Then, once I got my database in check, I was able to shape up all sorts of other operational processes…

Wouldn’t you like to escape Database Groundhog Day too?

Here’s how you do it:

First, build database standards.

If everyone is using the database in different ways, it will never be clean. By gathering all users into one room, this is the opportunity to put a stake in the ground and discuss how you will use your database. Don’t build these alone or in a silo, because if people don’t have a say, it’s much harder to get them to buy-in or even adhere to the standards. Click here to learn more about how to build database standards for your database.

Here are some sample standards (we usually have 10-12 pages at the end of the exercise):

  • No pledges will be entered without written documentation from the donor (e.g., signed pledge form/letter or email).
  • The Gift Date is recorded as the date the gift is received by {Organization} or the date the credit card is processed, if applicable. The postmark will serve as Gift Date at the end of both the fiscal and calendar years (and for two weeks afterward). The GL Post Date will be the date of deposit.
  • Only donors (individual or institutional), prospects (being actively cultivated), event attendees, and trustees will have records in the database.
  • Any new codes requiring table additions will require database administrator approval.

Next, build a plan to get your database to standard.

Those with a plan win. I had a boss that always said this and after years of ignoring his statement, I realized he was right. A manageable, do-able plan makes all the difference in the world. And, here’s the best thing….you now have a document that states what your database should look like. All you need to do is go through each standard one-by-one and write down what it would take to get that part of the database up to standard.

Another hidden benefit to having a plan is that you can articulate to leadership how long the cleanup will take and if you need resources to help you. You won’t have much luck asking for resources by saying, “I think it will take me 4 months to clean the database.” It’s a totally different conversation with leadership when you go in with your plan in hand and say, “These are the items I can manage over the next 4 months, and these are the efforts that we need help with.”

Next, clean up your fundraising database.

Most people believe the clean up to be the worst part. Actually, it’s quite cathartic and joyful. All you need to do is to work the plan you built! And, if there is a lot of cleanup, ask your teammates for help. You can train colleagues to go through duplicates or update organizational contacts. You don’t need to take this on by yourself! Imagine if you were staring at a list of 650 duplicates to plow through. (Ugg!) Now imagine you recruited 4 colleagues and everyone agreed to take on 160. Awesome, right? And, final piece of advice, make sure to pace yourself and celebrate your wins!

Finally, monitor for data integrity.

Once your fundraising database is cleaned up and your standards are in place, it’s time to monitor for any issues that pop up. We work with clients to develop data integrity queries and reports that are run monthly. This helps catch data integrity issues before they spiral out of control. Click here to learn more about data integrity checks. They are lifesavers!

Comment below to tell us how you overcame fundraising database issues. We’d love to hear what was helpful for you!