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 just had an “oh no!” moment, and realized it’s been months, maybe even 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event or hosting an annual meeting, your organization can only get so far when your members’ contact information is outdated.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. That means the mailing you spent a great 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 that’s remedied overnight.

With fall kicking off, I figured there’s no better time than now to dust off the cobwebs, prioritize data hygiene, and get your assets in gear! Here are a few 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 should to 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 a number of factors, like 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 who have filed a change-of-address with the U.S. Postal Service. By regularly checking your database against the NCOA dataset, you’re able to mail more accurately and save resources by ensuring your communication ends up in the right hands. Not to mention, the USPS requires regular NCOA maintenance from all bulk-rate mailers. Your association management and/or donor management system vendor should be able to assist you with this.

Create Cadence

Ensuring your database is updated on a consistent cadence should be a top priority at your organization. Perhaps your slow season starts during summer, maybe it’s during December. Pick a time and cadence that works best for your organization, and update your database at least on an annual – and preferably a quarterly or monthly – basis.

Define Your Processes

Once you’re on the road to ensuring your organization is maintaining your data, it’s important to document those steps! Maybe you have one or two people on staff who are responsible for your database. Make sure they write down the processes and procedures; and that those processes and procedures are repeatable by others who may need to step in.

Your data hygiene can make or break your organization. If you have other tips you’d like to share, be sure to comment below.