Five top tips for cleaning data efficiently

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Cleaning (data, not windows)Cleaning data isn’t glamorous, but it can save you thousands of pounds and help you avoid really damaging PR.

When do you need to do it?

If your charity ever buys in data, no matter how clean the salesman says it is, clean your data. If you do end up using unclean data, you can not only waste your charity’s money on contact the wrong people, but it can also lead to some really negative publicity.

Another time to get your data processes in order is when you’re moving your charity onto a new CRM system. Over time, it’s natural that data picks up rough edges as people enter things slightly wrongly, or if it simply becomes obsolete due to people moving addresses or changing phone numbers. Trust us – it’ll save you a lot of time and pain in the long run if you consolidate your data before you migrate your systems.

Cleaning data is undeniably a laborious, time-consuming task and the temptation to only do a surface clean is understandable. But it incredibly important, especially in the charity sector nowadays, given recent high-profile scandals. So, to really maximise your time spent on it, efficient cleaning is vital.

To help you in that pursuit, here are five top tips from Camelia Vasilcan (Database Manager at Children with Cancer):

1. Apply a unique ID

Applying an individual ID to each record is essential for managing data accurately including and tracking any changes. It’s often called a unique reference number (URN), and an example would be the ‘record ID’ if you use

A unique ID is the one thing that you should never change. So, for example, imagine that someone changes their name by deed poll and then change their email address to suit. If you have a unique ID set to them, then you can still see it’s the same person as before after changing all of their details, whereas you wouldn’t be able to if you were using their email address or name as the core value.

2. Ensure accurate data capture and input

This is really important to consider when you’re thinking of taking up a new CRM system.

Create a guideline for data capture to improve basic data quality, ensuring that all required data fields are made mandatory, e.g. postcodes. Then, keep standards the same – Road or Rd, Limited or Ltd. This improves data cleaning accuracy and makes the processing time more efficient.

3. Check your supplier and give them time

If you’ve bought data, you’ll need to find a data cleaning bureau as they’ll have the external data resources required (i.e. deceaseds, gone-aways, etc.) that can be matched to your data to identify what records need updating or suppressing.

Take the time to investigate different data cleaning routines and choose the supplier who meets your needs – evidenced through case studies and testimonials. Then give them plenty of time to do the necessary checks to ensure it’s done properly. This is an area where it’s definitely a case of ‘more haste, less speed’.

4. Keep data secure

This isn’t just a consideration but an absolute requirement. Your supplier should provide you with a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and a secure method of transferring your data. You should also encrypt your data.

5. Little and often

Don’t leave yourself with a large data-cleaning bill annually when you can run monthly or quarterly cleans. Cleaning data more frequently cuts mailing costs and reduces wastage.



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