The dangers of a messy database aren’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 your crew to help clean it all up.

It’s certainly not uncommon for an association database to contain old or obsolete member data, but just because messy data happens doesn’t mean it has to be the norm.

What makes messy databases especially sneaky is that they can seem like an inconvenience to you and your team.

But 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.

These issues go beyond a mere annoyance, which is why we’re passionate about association database cleanup. 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.

Here are some of our best tips and tricks for an association database cleanup that will set your organization up for success in the new season!

The Key Data Points You Need to Include in Your Database

Beyond the basic demographic information you’ll want to track for your members like first and last name, address, communication information and preferences, referral information, etc. there are data points you can include that will allow you to leverage your database to not just track, but engage and retain your members.

Consider adding these data points to your database for maximum member engagement:

  • 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

How To Get Your Staff Comfortable With Your Database

A staff’s comfort level with a database can be tricky, especially when association database best practices say that not all staff should even have access to the database (more on that in just a second).

But whether a staff member has direct access to your database or not, it’s important that everyone is bought into the database system you’re using, knows how their role can support good data collection and maintenance, and knows who to go to or where to go if they have questions.

Here are a few ways to inspire your staff to work together to adopt good database habits:

  • Explain the “Why.” Even if your staff is aware of issues related to a messy database, the thought of a new database system or a new process can seem daunting. Remind them why your association decided to move forward with a new database system or processes (goodbye excel sheets) and explain how cleaning up the data will result in happier, more involved members, which should make everyone’s jobs easier.
  • Get specific. At your next staff meeting, dig into some of the specific activities, metrics, and processes that make the biggest impact. Make sure to give examples. Use screenshots, record videos, and always leave time for questions at the end of any meetings and training.
  • Encourage others to take initiative. Assign a “project champion” who is in charge of maintaining your database and can be available for anyone with questions, onboarding new staff members on how to use the database, running reports, etc. This ensures there’s an owner of the project and makes communication about the database seamless. Make sure to give this person special recognition!
  • Lean on your database provider. Every person who joins your association staff should attend introductory database training shortly after they start. This will help them understand the importance of your system early on while giving them some basic understanding of how to use it. From there, you can teach them how your team prefers to use certain features and your processes.

And ask if your database provider has a library of instructional resources. If not, it’s worth starting to build one of your own.

7 Ways to Clean Your Association’s Database

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.

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.

3. Revise as Needed

One of the first things to prioritize when it comes to actually making some necessary changes is revisiting any forms members will fill out that will usher data into your database.

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?

4. Revisit your Processes

When it comes to your process for cleaning and ongoing maintenance of your database, it’s important to think in terms of workflow and the people involved.

As you start to revisit your 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.

5. Make it a Team Effort

Just because you’re in charge of your organization’s IT 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.

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. Having multiple records for the same person complicates the data entry process by spreading out information among multiple records.

7. Keep it Up

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.

Take Your Database To the Next Level

Once you’ve finished cleaning your database up, how can you use it to your best advantage? Here are some great ways to start making the most of your database:

1. Engage members who are slowly “dropping off”

Your database likely lets you see how engaged your members really are: who’s opening your emails, who’s attending your events, who’s volunteering, etc.

Or better yet, who’s not. Could you use that information to create a special campaign for unengaged members? Absolutely! You could send them a coupon for a discount on your next webinar or have a staff member/board member/volunteer give them a call. Use that information to re-engage those members  before it’s too late.

2. Convert prospects into members

You likely spend some time marketing to prospective members, but how are you actually nurturing them so that they become members?

For example, let’s say you had an event and several prospects registered AND attended. Could you pull a list from your database and create an email marketing campaign for those prospect attendees? Could you let them know that you hope the event was valuable and that if they want even more value, they should consider joining (and then go on to list your association’s benefits)? It’s definitely worth a shot!

3. Identify your most engaged members (and convert them into member ambassadors)

As we’ve mentioned, your database allows you to see how engaged your members really are. But what’s great about that is you can then identify your most engaged members and then (hopefully) convert them into member ambassadors — champions of your organization.

Take a look at who’s attending your events, who’s opening your emails, who’s volunteering, who’s reading your blog. Then reach out to those members with some kind of incentive. See if they’d be willing to help promote your event for a discount on registration. Or if they’d be willing to volunteer for a VIP upgrade.

4. Set up some rules to avoid messy data in the future

By revisiting and revising your current processes, this step should take care of itself. When you’re reviewing your processes, make sure to add in opportunities to regularly address, share, and clean your data.

Add a special agenda item on a monthly staff meeting to allow the database project champion to bring up any questions or concerns about the database. Include an internal audit of the database every year into your project calendars. Encourage people running data reports to always use an extra set of eyes before distributing any reports widely.

If the idea of cleaning up your association management system sounds overwhelming, contact us to see how MemberClicks’s platform can help you keep all your data in order, so you can be out enjoying the spring weather in no time!