Are You Staying on Top of Your Data?


The growth in information is very rapid. Organizations need to have a full grasp of how, where and why it is growing. Data now presents a tremendous opportunity to make better decisions. However, the same information can also become a major liability if it is not properly protected. Organizations that effectively use their information will have a major competitive advantage over those who cannot, and in some cases it can be the difference between success and failure.

Associations need to start looking at all the sources of data they currently own. In fact, they probably have a lot of important data in a lot of different places – internal and external. What they might be lacking are the data management best practices that could help them get to all of that data and take a closer look at it.

We share the top 10 tips by Wes Trochlil for effective data management:

  1. Establish data entry guidelines and user guides. Your users need to understand what and how information should be entered. Example: do you use St. or Street or STREET? Data that is entered inconsistently will give you inconsistent data. Create a user guide with detailed steps that staff should follow when members interact with your association. Example: how do we process a new membership? What do we do when an individual leaves a member company and goes to work for a non-member company?
  2. Training for staff. Training must be made available to new staff and as a refresher later on; over-the-shoulder training is useless; and employees should be trained and/or tested in a sandbox, not in a live system. If trained in a live system, employees are more likely to react anxiously, worried that they may make a mistake that could be permanently damaging.
  3. Eliminate shadow systems. Every organization has files in Outlook, Word, Excel that house member and transaction data. If this data is maintained separately and never goes back into your database, you have a shadow system.
  4. Don’t manage to the exception. Example: You have eligibility rules for membership so you don’t process payments until prospects have been approved. If most prospects are approved, go ahead and accept payment up front.  That way, you’ve already collected the money and you only have to send out a few refund checks a year.
  5. Capture all contacts in your database. Some organizations only capture member information or just the primary contact at member companies. Wes says that you should be capturing non-members who attend your conference, membership prospects, press, legislative and regulatory contacts, etc.
  6. Track non-financial transactions. It’s easy to focus on the financial ways members engage with you. But non-financial interactions often represent deeper forms of engagement. Examples: committee participation, speaking at conferences, writing articles for the magazine, prospect volunteers, people who give ideas, etc.
  7. Run data integrity reports regularly. It’s inevitable that you’ll have invalid or incorrect information in your data. So run data integrity reports regularly to catch the problems. Examples: company members with no primary contacts, individuals with no emails, records with invalid emails or web addresses, etc. Weeding out bad data is something that must be done frequently if you want it to be successful.
  8. Start an internal users group. An internal users group will help staff share database tips and tricks, facilitate cross-training, and be a source for database improvements.
  9. Practice database PR. Tell your staff regularly about what’s going on with the database. Tell them about what’s working. Talk about improvements. This way, the conversation isn’t always about how the database takes too much time.
  10. Pursue success, not perfection. Understand, as soon as data goes into your system it’s out of date. People die, lose jobs, and change addresses. So be comfortable knowing that your data is never going to be completely perfect and up to date. Since perfection costs too much and is a moving target anyway, let’s pursue success.

What two or three things can you do differently in the next six months that will make your database better?