Skip to main content
Association Management

Cleaning Up Your Association Database

MemberClicks Avatar MemberClicks June 15, 2023
Table of Contents
10 min read

A messy database isn't that different than a messy home: it’s hard to find items you need, it’s easy to misplace important things. . . and the bigger the mess, the harder it is to motivate yourself, or your crew, to help clean it all up.

And while it’s not uncommon for an association database to contain old or obsolete member data, your data should always be organized and usable.

The value of data

Data is super important to your organization for a few reasons. It helps you:

  • Make decisions about where to invest your time and budget
  • Understand your members more
  • Can help you personalize your communications
  • Predict revenue and goal opportunities

Bad data has been known to lead to poor communication (we’ve seen people accidentally emailing a deceased member), mistaken member identities (who hasn’t accidentally sent an email to the wrong person?), and even lost opportunities for revenue.

We firmly believe that if your data is clean, it can be accessible to the right people and offer insights that go beyond just numbers.

Some basic terminology

If you’re new to the world of data, there’s a lot of terms and jargon that can make it super inaccessible. Here's some of the basics you should know and what they mean.

TermMeaning
DataThe information you collect (usually in numbers, but could also be names, addresses, numbers, etc)
Member dataThe information about your members specifically, including their names, locations, contact info as well as more personal info like why they joined your association, how they found you, etc.
DatabaseWhere the information you collect is stored for use. Your AMS often is your database for membership info.
Raw dataInformation that hasn’t yet been analyzed or processed to be used
Processed dataInformation that has meaning assigned to it, usually after looking at trends and what learnings you can pull from data
Data-driven decisionsChoices within your organization are made based on the information you have collected
DashboardA graphical representation of your information to make data more visual and readable

Your association database is probably an amalgamation of member data (names, join dates, contact into, etc) and other data points (open rates of emails, most popular pages on your website, clicks on a link). Both of these are super important and useful. A great database will help you see these data separately and be clear about what numbers and info belong to who and what source.

This is why having a clean database is so important. It can get fuzzy really fast.

How to tell if your database is messy

A “messy” database translates into an collection of information that is either unreadable, unusable or untrustworthy.

There are a few tell-tale signs that your database needs a clean up.

  1. You have to look in different places for information.
  2. You don’t fully trust the numbers you see.
  3. You wish you had information that you don’t.
  4. You can’t read your data.
  5. You aren’t 100% sure what information you’re looking at.
  6. The names you’ve assigned to data don’t make sense
  7. Different members on your team collect, store and use data differently

If any (or many) of these remind you of your database, it’s time to reevaluate.

The 3 keys to data for associations

There are three things associations should expect form their data. They should:

  • Understand where data comes from
  • Know where to find data
  • Know how to use that data

 1. Understanding where data comes from

In most cases the bulk of your member data will be collected when a member joins your organization. This is the bulk of demographic info you collect from member forms.

All that other, deeper data we talked about before? It’s not a one-and-done collection process. This type of data can be collected from a number of sources including:

  • Engagement with your member communications (emails, phone calls, texts)
  • Answers on member surveys
  • Responses to member polls
  • What they click on, engage with and read on your website

2. Knowing where to find data

Finding data is the big piece here, often solved with technology. A major benefit of using membership management or association management software is that it will collect, organize and store this data automatically. Software like MemberClicks collects info from all these different sources mentioned above and compiles it to make it super easy to find.

If you don’t have software and use a bunch of tools for forms, emails communication and to run your website, you can easily miss or lose data. So, if you’re serious about cleaning up and organizing your database, software is the way to go. Here, you can find the 5 steps to choosing the right membership database.

Finding data on a staff-by-staff level

The second level to this point is that your staff needs to be comfortable with your database  — something that can be tricky. If you want more tips on that, check out our other article all about it here.

3. Knowing how to use data

Member data is POWERFUL. It has insight into what your members and potential members like, respond to, and gravitate towards. But what are you doing with that member data? Are you analyzing it? Using it to make adjustments/improvements? Letting it sit idle until you can get around to it?

Keep your data front and center

First and foremost, your data needs to be accessible, and not only that, but placed in a prominent location where you can see it on a regular basis (without having to go hunting for it). If it’s something you have to work to get (scrolling through a membership spreadsheet, exporting reports, conducting manual calculations, etc.), you’re likely to put it off as much as you can, and out of sight = out of mind.

To make your data easily accessible (and in a format where you don’t have to conduct manual calculations), you may want to consider using an association management system. With an AMS, not only can you choose to display your member data prominently on a membership dashboard, but the system will update that information FOR you every time someone fills out a form.

It’s so easy to get lost in your day-to-day activities – sending emails, mailing new member welcome packets, writing copy for your newsletter, etc. But what really matters? Recruitment, engagement, and retention. That said, by having these metrics front and center, you can quickly tell where you need to focus your attention.

Look beyond the numbers

Ok, so once you have the numbers, what do you do with them? Well honestly, data really isn’t about the numbers at all – it’s about what those numbers signify.

For example, you should be tracking numbers like how many new members you have (how many people joined within the past 90 days), how many people registered for you last event, how many people actually attended your last event, etc.

Then you should be taking those numbers and diving in deeper – asking why, where, and how. Data is all about making your organization better, so analysis is key.

Now we realize the thought of pulling all this data can be intimidating. But remember, an AMS can actually pull it for you. All you have to do is analyze it. (And even though that seems time-consuming, it’s a lot better than going around in circles and guessing why your renewal rates and event registrations are low.)

Analyzing your data

Consider open rates on member emails. You may know this number comes from your weekly newsletter, and you may know exactly where to go in your dashboard to find this information, but what conclusions can you draw from it? What is a “good” or “bad” open rate?

There are 2 ways to tackle this point:

  1. You can lean on 3rd party resources and education to help you learn. This could be marketing websites like Hubspot, your software provider to talk about the metrics and how to use your database, or leaning on google to help you find some sources.
  2. Use your member data as a benchmark for tracking improvements. If your 20% of your members usually open your newsletter and 50% open after you make a change, then that’s a great improvement! Sometimes, it’s not about industry standards but about what’s good for your members and organization specifically.

7 Steps to Clean Your Association’s Database

So we know that a clean database is important. Here’s how you can get started.

1. Back it Up

We can’t stress this one enough. Always, always, always back up your database system. Trust us, backing up your database on a regular basis will save you from many data-loss headaches (and tears) down the road. If you’re working with an association management system, it should securely back up your database for you, giving you one less thing to worry about — but if you’re still in Excel Hell, you’ll have to do that part manually.

If you’re going to be doing any kind of overhaul of your database (even one to clean it up) then you 100% need to do this step first.

2. Prioritize

If you’re like most associations, your database is probably pretty hefty. You can’t clean it all at once, so prioritization is key. Determine what lists or sections are most important. Is it your member list? Your donor list? Whatever it is, start there and work your way down.

How do you identify your priorities? Use your organization goals to help guide you. If you’re focusing on growing donations, then your donor list is key. If member engagement is your priority, let any data that supports that be first.

3. Revise your data collection as needed

This step is often overlooked as part of the process because it’s not an immediate-results task. When you’re looking at your data, take note of any gaps or unnecessary data you collect. Then, revise any forms members will fill out that will usher data into your database as needed.

Here are some questions to think about as you do an audit of your forms:

  • What fields are currently required? Are all of them needed? Are there some that shouldn’t be?
  • Is there one key field that’s consistently missing information? How can you ensure it’s filled in?
  • Are all member communication preferences clearly marked?
  • Is there any data I wish I had that I don’t?

This is also a great time to note down any ideas that come up for data collection, like member surveys, polls, phone calls, etc.

4. Create and write down a process for data maintenance

Kickstarting this process is just one step. Once you’ve made the choice to prioritize a clean database, this process needs to be ongoing. An important part of this is to create a process in terms of workflow and the people involved in this ongoing tasks.

As you start to build your data-maintenance processes, it’s helpful to write down the process of how data is entered into the system and how it’s used (for example: a member fills out a form, we run weekly membership reports to identify new members, we send weekly and event-oriented emails based on member database results, etc.).

Then, write out which of your staff members currently touch the data so you know who will be responsible for each step.

Once you’ve written out your process and roles and responsibilities of your staff, you can begin asking yourself questions like:

  • Do people have access to edit some fields who shouldn’t?
  • Do you have data entry rules? Are they being followed?
  • Can you easily find and merge duplicate records?
  • Do you have a way to back up your database?
  • Do you have someone managing returned mail / bounced email addresses?

And remember to include things in your process that allow for common data annoyances like duplicate records, bounced emails, communication preference changes, etc.

All of these steps will help keep up the quality of your nice clean database.

5. Make it a Team Effort

Just because you’re in charge of your organization’s data doesn’t mean the rest of your team is off the hook. Database cleaning is a team effort, so divide up your lists and determine who will work on what and when.

This step can also make your staff familiar with your data and help them feel empowered to use it. Playing around with data is one thing, but all aspects of an organization can benefit from knowing how to understand numbers and what they can learn from them.

6. Analyze it all

Running a database cleanse involves analyzing A LOT of data. Keep a close eye out for typos, formatting and accuracy. In addition, be sure to run a quick search for duplicate records, especially if your consolidating multiple data sources into a single source of truth. Having multiple records for the same person complicates the data entry process by spreading out information among multiple records.

7. Never stop cleaning up your data

To avoid having to go through this painful process again, we recommend treating your database system like a very expensive car – with a close eye and a fresh polish every few weeks.

Bulking up your database

Now that you have a plan to clean up your database, you can feel empowered to bulk it up with even more information.

Basic demographic information like first and last name, address, communication information and preferences, referral information, etc. helps you understand the foundation of who your members are. But, there’s a deeper level of info you can collect that lets you engage and retain your members.

These data points include:

  • Reason(s) for joining
  • Their interests (business and personal)
  • Committees and groups they are interested in or already participating in
  • The type and frequency of communication they’d like to receive
  • Business goals, or what they’re looking to achieve by joining your association
  • Date their business started
  • What types of events they attend regularly (yours or from other organizations)
  • What, if any, events or programs they have sponsored
  • What other groups and organizations they are involved in outside of your organization
  • Their social media outlets

You can use this deeper data to:

  • Build events that speak to the interests and needs of your members
  • Communicate with them in a way they’re more responsive to
  • Feel empowered to build personal connections with your members
  • Boost member engagement and ultimately your retention rates

Cleaning up your association database

If the idea of cleaning up your database sounds overwhelming, contact us to see how MemberClicks’ AMS platform can help you keep all your data in order. Our products let you build, send and collect info from forms, emails, website pages and more all in one place. It’s a database dream and we’d love to show you more.

Free Member Retention Guide

Ready to retain members and keep them coming back forever and ever? This guide will teach you everything you need to know about member retention. We cover all the basics, like the first steps to member retention and how to map out your member journey. From there, we dive a bit deeper into retention tips.

Download