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We hope you found the previous four blog posts in our data series useful. However, the information we have provided over the past few weeks can’t help you if your data is unorganized. You need to follow these five steps when performing a data audit create powerful communications with your data.

First, it is important to realize how much your organization can gain from performing a data audit. For those who are unfamiliar, a data audit will help your organization assess the quality of your collected information. Unlike a financial audit, a data audit requires you to examine key metrics, rather than just quantity to evaluate the value of your data assets.

Performing a data audit will help you answer several important questions:

  • Do we have any personal or sensitive data?
  • In what ways do we collect data?
  • How valuable is the data we’ve collected?
  • Where are we storing the data?
  • What do we do with the data?
  • Do we have a process for deleting old and unnecessary data?
  • Who owns, controls, and has access to the data?

Asking yourself these questions and finding the answers through a data audit is one of the most effective ways to identify issues with your organization’s marketing efforts, fundraising outreach, and data storage practices.

Step 1: Find Out What Data You Have

What kind of information are you collecting? Essentially, you need to make sure the data you have is beneficial for your organization. Since we work to improve the value of nonprofits’ and private schools’ fundraising communications, many of our clients focus on similar pieces of data.

For example, one of the most valuable data sets for nonprofits is the giving history of donors. This allows you to make references to past giving in your communications. You can then personalize ask strings based on past gifts. Since constant contact with your donor base is essential for building a strong donor-organization relationship, you will also want to have the home address (for direct mail communications), email address, and phone number of you donors.

Of course, nonprofits are not limited to just these data points, but they will likely be the most impactful.

Step 2: Discover Where Your Data is Stored

One of the biggest problems any organization can run into when they start planning a data driven approach is disorganization. You may have collected and stored data in several different programs, folders, and servers. You might even have some leads scribbled onto handwritten notes somewhere in that pile on your desk. Still, more data may be stored with third parties.

As you identify where your data resides, begin to formulate a list of these locations so you can consolidate your data into a dedicated place. For example, many of our nonprofit clients may have data from online lead generation, fundraising events, social media, and from donations collected online or through the mail. A problem arises when these bits of data are all stored in different places. Consider consolidating these into a spreadsheet in a designated folder or centralizing this data within a donor management system.

performing a data audit

Step 3: Talk to Your Team

In order to build an effective data-driven strategy, you will need to know how everyone in your organization uses the data you have collected. It is important to gain the insight of everyone involved in the data collection and utilization process. Performing a data audit with this in mind will allow you to come up with a strategy that is beneficial to your entire organization.

Let’s consider how a private school’s departments use data as an example. Obviously, data is of great importance to your development or advancement office for fundraising outreach. Your admissions office will also be very involved with data as they collect information from applicants.

You would then want to talk with your school’s administrative staff and educational department heads to see if and how they use data collected by other departments at your school. Are the teachers keeping track of anything that could represent the school in the development department’s fundraising outreach? Does the school’s administration have information that would be valuable to the admissions office’s efforts to attract more students to the school?

Different areas within your organization probably value, collect, and use data more than you realize. It is important to account for every area where data is gathered, stored, and analyzed within your organization when performing a data audit.

Step 4: Prioritizing Info When Performing a Data Audit

The next step is to look back and determine which pieces of data are the most impactful for your organization. Do you communicate with your donor base primarily through direct mail or email? The answer will impact if you should set email addresses or mailing addresses as higher priority.

In general, if a specific data segment has a significant impact on your organizations’ revenue, that data needs to be prioritized accordingly. Let’s say your organization has had great success increasing your average gift amount with personalized ask strings. In that case, make giving history your priority! Any information that impacts your bottom line should take precedent over supporting data.

Step 5: Identify Gaps in Data Usage

Everything is coming together. As you are performing a data audit, you learn more about the information you are collecting, who values it the most in your organization, and how they use it. You’ve organized your data based on priority and now you’ve realized that some of the data at the bottom of your priority list is pretty valuable! You just haven’t taken advantage of it.

One of the most common gaps we identify when working with our clients is the failure to update data across all platforms. This problem stems from the issue of data silos we mentioned earlier. For example, our private school clients collect a lot of data through their admissions office. However, we often find the admissions office fails to notify other departments when it gathers new data or updates existing information.

Imagine learning your direct mail communications on a capital campaign hasn’t reached a high value prospective donor because the development department was never notified of an address change. This scenario can be avoided if you identify this gap while preforming a data audit.

Data, Data, Data

We hope you have enjoyed reading our insights on a data driven approach as much as we enjoyed sharing them with you. If you missed any of the previous for posts in this series, we have gathered them here for you:


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