Donor Data Quality
The quality of address information is extremely important for increasing your campaigns’ deliverability and performance. Bad addressing information will cost you money and, quite likely, constituents. The most basic addressing footprint consists of fields such as first and last name, postal address, email and phone numbers. The accuracy of each is key for to successful deliverability.
Each person in your database should have a separate record, meaning you should avoid storing multiple first names (e.g husband & wife) in the first name field. This has far-reaching adverse implications for donor analytics, message and ask strategies and record deduplication, to name a few. Refrain from using first name initials where possible. Having full names will allow you to run gender detection sometime down the road and to use the full name for variable content (Dear John).
Address correction has a huge impact on deliverability of your direct mail campaigns. After all, if the mail piece never makes it to the intended recipient, you might as well not have bothered sending it. Ideally you should have an address correction system in place that corrects and verifies all mail addresses at the point of entry into your database. The key function of address correction systems is to make sure that the address exists and is formatted according to your postal systems standards. In the case where integrating an address correction system is not feasible or practical, one should perform periodic address corrections against records that have been added or changed since the last correction (the deltas). This can be done by extracting, correcting and updating the database records in question.
Canadian and USA postal carriers maintain what is called a National Change of Address (NCOA) database which keeps track of individual, family or business moves. Depending on demographic segment, somewhere between 5% to 15% of the population moves each year. You can see how your database can progressively and quickly get out of date if you don’t keep track of address updates!
Duplicate record detection and merging is another key activity required to maintain a healthy constituent database. Duplicates are typically introduced into your database due to lax data entry procedures, be it automatic or manual. In addition to that, various first name spellings, lack of address correction or not having the most recent constituent address can all cause one to create a duplicate record. Perform a duplicate merge on a periodic basis to catch those problems. If you find a channel that is introducing dups, fix it! Depending on the severity of the problem, duplicates can hit your bottom line by producing unnecessary contacts and, even worse, leave a negative impression on your constituents.
Addressing information quite likely constitutes a small percentage of your over-all data. The bulk and probably the most valuable type of information will reside in various indicator fields and tables. There are a several straightforward techniques for maintaining good fundraising indicator data.
Avoid using blanks for field values unless logically necessary, e.g. a missing email address. For example, field types that carry Boolean information should always consist of a 1/0, Yes/No etc. instead of a 1 and a blank in place of a 0. The same principle should be applied to indicators with a multi-value set. Always use a well-defined set of values, while never allowing free-hand entry of such. Your systems should use option dropdowns or other forms of entry mechanisms that restrict one to a predefined set of values.
Put some thought into naming fields as well as the set of values they keep track of. Clear and unambiguous naming will save time and most importantly help avoid mistakes due to misinterpretation down the road. For example, DoNotTrack -> Allow/DoNotAllow could be interpreted in many ways. Using Track -> Yes/No leaves no room for misinterpretation.
The character encoding for the data should be consistent throughout your process pipeline. Never mix encodings, for example Windows-1252 and UTF-8, as this will cause what some people like to refer to as ‘corruptions’. The systems using your data will be able to handle one type but not the other(s) at the same time. The end effect is that the systems involved in delivering your campaign, be it online or print, will not properly render the character set they are not set to use. Care must be taken when bulk importing data from other sources. Always make sure that the encoding matches what you use in your system.
All in all, do not permit dirty data from getting into your database. Vet everything and fix issues proactively!