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Your organization’s data can be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on how you prioritize and strategize. When maintained and managed well, your dataset can provide valuable insights into your constituents, their behavior and their relationship with your organization.

On the other hand, if there are a few more cobwebs in your files than you’d like to admit, your data can hinder your efforts to effectively communicate and engage members and donors.

Probably a few of you have recently had an “oh-no!” moment, and realized it’s been months, maybe years, since you tried to scrub your database. I don’t blame you. Schedules are crazy and demand at work is high. However, as an influencer at your organization, prioritizing data hygiene is crucial to success.

Whether planning a fundraising event or hosting an annual meeting, your organization can only get so far when your members’ contact information is outdated. Estimates show that 15 percent of U.S. consumers change addresses each year. This means the mailing you spent a chunk of budget on may not even make it into the right hands. Many organizations experience this frustration, and, unfortunately, data hygiene isn’t something remedied overnight.

With fall upon us, I figure there’s no better time than now to dust off the cobwebs, prioritize data hygiene, and get your assets in gear! Here are 5 ways to get started:

Update samples. Start small by making routine updates to random samples in your contact databases. Maintenance in sample sizes is much easier to consume than an entire overhaul.

Set goals. When sending out communication pieces, set goals for how accurate your data must be. For example, when sending out an email to your entire membership, set a realistic goal for percentage of hard bounces. While your exact percentage will vary (based on many factors, such as how frequently you email your membership, the last time you sent an email, and overall email record health), looking at past performance at your organization and setting an improvement goal is a good step.

Take advantage of NCOA. The National Change of Address (NCOA) database contains approximately 160 million permanent change-of-address records of individuals, families and businesses, all of which have filed a change of address with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). By regularly checking your database against the NCOA dataset, you can mail more accurately and save resources by ensuring your communication ends up in the right hands. The USPS also requires regular NCOA maintenance from all bulk-rate mailers. Your association management and/or donor management system vendor can assist you with this.

Create cadence. Making sure your database is updated on a consistent cadence must be a top priority at your organization. Perhaps your slow season starts during summer; maybe, it’s during December. Pick a time and cadence which works best for your organization. Update your database at least annually, and preferably on a quarterly or monthly basis.

Define your processes. Once you’re on the road to maintaining your organization’s data, it’s important to document those steps. Perhaps you assign one or two staff members responsibility for your database. Be sure they write down the processes and procedures, and those are repeatable by others who may need to step in.

Your data hygiene can make or break your organization. Stay on top of keeping it clean. Let us know about any other tips for data hygiene you’d like to share at connectwithus@yourmembership.com.