Data Append Basics

This is a great time to clean up donor records as you gear up for the fall solicitation season. The last Fundraising Nerd News dealt with cleaning up the data you already have. Now let's talk about buying additional data.

You can buy all sorts of data about your constituents, from phone numbers to email addresses to social media profiles to consumer behavioral profiles. Today, we’re going to focus on buying basic contact and demographic information -- a great starting point to help you keep in touch with your constituents.

Know Your Needs
First, start by figuring out what you need. Is your organization gearing up for a big planned giving campaign? Buying birthdate/age data is a good idea. Is your organization fifty years old and has never given much TLC to its records? You may want to do a deceased screen to cut down on mailing costs and more importantly, stop potentially upsetting surviving family members. Focusing on social media? By all means, consider purchasing email and social media profile data.

Don’t purchase data for data’s sake. If you aren't going to use it or it’s not relevant to your fundraising and marketing efforts, it’s a waste of your budget. Even worse, collecting irrelevant data about your constituents is a research ethics no.

Set a Goal
Take an inventory of what you already have. What percentage of your donor and prospect records have address, phone, email data, etc. on file? Based on your current status, set some goals for improvement.

For example, if you currently have phone records for 10% of your 5,000 donors, set a goal of increasing this from 500 phone records to 1,500 phone records. Typical cell phone matching rates are around 40%, so this is a reasonable goal.

When you screen your records, you can expect to identify matches for a certain percentage of your file. Match rates vary by data type, from the low end (email and social media at around 15 to 20%), to rates above 50% for address matching, landline matching, birthdate matching, and deceased identification.

If it's been a long time since you've tended your records, before you set goals, you may want to start with some contact data verification: screen all your records to verify the phone and address data you currently have for your constituents.

Key Terms
Let’s pause here, and define a few key terms:

  • Screen -- to screen means to review your data against a large database of information about individuals
  • Append -- append means to add additional information to your data file, based on the results of the screening
  • Verify -- verify means to confirm information you already have, based on the results of the screening
  • Match rate -- this is the percentage of your records you can expect to match the vendor’s file

A Few Basic Screens/Appends
There's a lot of data out there.  Here are some places you might want to start:

  • Mailing addresses
    • NCOA -- NCOA stands for “National Change of Address”. This is an address screening based on U.S. Postal Service data, and can be used to update your constituents’ addresses. This data is based on mail forwarding requests, and includes 48 months of history.
    • CASS -- This stands for Coding Accuracy Support System. This is a screening that will standardize your mailing addresses to postal service standards. This assists in mail delivery, and can also help to clean up funky addresses, e.g. “Porkland, OR 97202” will become “Portland, OR 97202”.
    • Lost constituent -- Lost constituent screens are used to find individuals for whom you do not have an address that was valid within the last 48 months. These screenings work well when you have birthdate, and/or a former address on records.
  • Phone numbers -- Both landlines and cell phone numbers can be verified and/or appended. These appends are based on address data.
  • Email addresses -- If you have someone's name and current home address, you may be able to purchase their email address.  This is often a worthwhile purchase, but it’s good to understand what you’re getting into. The best practice is for your or the email address vendor to offer an opt out before the addresses are added to your database e.g. "The Panda Welfare Coalition would like to stay in touch with you by email. If you would prefer not to hear from the PWC by email, please click here to opt out.  And one caveat: do you have a "junk mail" address that you use to sign up for warranties, buy products, etc. to avoid spam to your personal account? A lot of people do, so some of the addresses you buy may fall into this category. Additionally, some of the matches may be false matches -- you may turn up a spouse or another member of the household.
  • Reverse email append -- If you have an email address, you can reverse-append someone's name and mailing address.
  • Social media profiles --- If you have someone's email address, you may be able to append their social media profile to your records. The social media profile refers to the web address of a Facebook page, LinkedIn page, etc. This data can be very messy, and is not always accurate, but if your organization is focusing heavily on online engagement, the purchase may be worth it.
  • Age/birth date and deceased appends -- Age appends and deceased appends are based on address data as well.

Selecting a vendor

    • There are many vendors out there that sell this kind of data. For the most part, it's all coming from the same primary sources, e.g. LexisNexis, and being re-sold. When you are negotiating with a data append vendor, focus on customer service and pricing, as those are the factors that will distinguish the best from the rest.

Your database vendor may offer a cleanse and append service, possibly as an integrated service within your database. Keep in mind that you will probably pay more than if you find a stand-alone provider, but the integration and time-savings of using your database vendor's services may be worth it. If you still have to export and import your own data, then the vendor service is likely not worth the cost.

Start with addresses
You may have noticed a pattern: most data appends rely on addresses. Make good address data your first goal. Screen your records for addresses, and then go from there in acquiring the other data points you need. A good vendor should help you plan your project to maximize success.

Make a maintenance plan
Set a long-term goal for your contact data targets, e.g. “95% of donors will have an address on record”. Add a line item to your annual budget for data cleanses and appends, and use this budget to pursue your data hygiene goals.

And of course -- there are lots of ways to collect and clean your data beyond data cleanses and appends. In future editions of Fundraising Nerd News, we’ll cover some of those too.