PMA Consulting, LLC

Migration and Consolidation of Donor Databases

If you read the title of the blog post and still stuck around, chances are you are weighing the challenges and rewards of a database clean-up and/or migration. At some point, nearly every organization goes through some sort of major data-related project (or at least they should!), and donor database conversions are some of the most arduous. But with a little planning and a big picture perspective, your next data project need not lead to hair pulling.

The Finish LineStart at the end and work backward

What do you want your database to do? It is a simple question, but one that can get lost in the shuffle of nifty bells and whistles, user-defined fields and import/export headaches. Before you start weighing options for new products, identify the capacities and activities you desire and figure out where the data will come from and who will record it. Remember – a database is only as powerful as the data it captures.

Plan, Plan, PlanMeasure once and cut

Nothing is worse than to be halfway through a data project – too far to turn back but still a ways away from the end – only to discover that a simple but crucial component has been overlooked. Create a detailed plan, map each aspect of the project and seek expert advice when available.

Duplicate RecordsClean-up your data before you import/merge

Some donor databases are sophisticated enough to provide “de-duping” modules designed to help identify multiple records with similar characteristics. But the technology is not perfect and no one knows your data as well as you do. It can be a chore, but take the time to review the data before it is imported to help identify records that should (or shouldn’t) be merged. Critical to consider before your next mailing: recently deceased and divorced individuals.

Architecture for DonationsDesign it right the first time

Donor databases are traditionally made up of at least two sets of data – contact/affiliation information and pledge/gift data. Both sides should be well designed, but the pledge/gift data is usually the most difficult to map. Between multiple tiers of fields (often called campaigns, funds and appeals), an organization must thoughtfully lay out how it will track giving data. One tip: Consider the queries you will want to pull and work backward to determine the best alignment.

Retiring RecordsBreaking the myth that all records are precious

Yes Virginia, sometimes we retire records. But we never delete! Archiving records of non-donors and inactives is typically done on very large databases to improve performance or when management fees are based on the number of records kept (e.g. eTapestry). Careful archiving involves identifying the characteristics that render a record non-critical (e.g. no gift in 10-15 years, no connections, unconfirmed contact information, opted-out, etc) and ensuring that the data is still accessible in a separate platform.