The Beginner’s Guide to Achieving Better Data Hygiene

From informing important decisions to mitigating risks posed by collecting sensitive information, nonprofits of any size should appreciate the power of their data. The quality of an organization’s data relies on several factors, but there are ways in which data poses several problems.

Nonprofit professionals know how important data is as a resource, and as such, should do everything they can to protect it. Collecting data is challenging by itself, but then you take into consideration how many systems your data is spread across, there can be an issue as to whether or not your data is considered “clean” or “hygienic.”

Data hygiene can be immensely beneficial to your nonprofit organization, but you can’t run into it blindly without a plan.

Prioritizing Data Integrity

The idea behind the integrity of your data is simple; by all accounts, your data is as true as it can be and thus can be relied upon for future use and analysis. Your stored data must be both accurate and consistent, but also free from undocumented alteration, with the exception that your data records are routinely updated.

What this basically means is that the trustworthiness of your data should never be questioned, and if it’s integrity is compromised, you have to find solutions to make it more trustworthy.

From the start, ensuring data integrity means that it must always be a priority and help shape the standards and protocols for your data collection. After your collection strategy is rock-solid, this priority for data integrity should continue throughout the lifespan of the organization.


Achieving Better Data Hygiene

The first place to look when trying to ensure clean data is by examining existing data standards. If you rely on multiple software to collect and analyze data, chances are that similar types of data are defined and stored differently from one another.

For example, you could have one tool track a donor’s name, while another collects the same information. In one, the donor’s name is separated into two columns for first and last name, while the other records his full name in one field, with the last name first. While both could be considered correct, there’s a lack of standardization when this information is stored in a single database.

The important thing to keep in mind here is standardizing data collection at the point of entry or using tools which can help different software communicate with each other.

Cleansing (Duplicates, too)

After standardization comes the task of cleaning existing data, which will feel like quite the mountain to climb. Depending how much data you need to be cleaned or how far back you want to audit your data, cleaning is necessary if you want to be sure about its reliability.

There are lots of ways to go about cleaning data, but one of the most common types of bad data you’ll likely come across are duplicate entries. Elimination of duplicates is critical because they can skew large sets of data if they exist.

The simplest way to go about cleaning your data is by aggregating, filtering, merging — whatever it takes to get your data into a single place where you can check for duplicates and other miscellaneous errors.

Secure Storage & Backups

Best Practices for Achieving Exceptional Data Hygiene

Part of maintaining a clean group of data includes a commitment to regularly backing up everything. If you’re concerned about how often to backup your data, you should backup as often as you can to avoid any permanent losses in data. There will be cases that frequent backups are not feasible due to available resources.

In fact, some nonprofits have such humongous data storage needs that they may invest in additional on-site servers purely to act as a backup source. For smaller nonprofits, it may be a good idea to review what cloud backup options exist that make sense from a cost perspective.

Executive & Leader Buy-in

Another critical aspect of achieving better data hygiene is having leaders and management teams buying into a clean data plan and prioritizing the integrity of data. Once leaders and executives are dedicated to having good data hygiene, education of the entire organization can begin to further cement accurate data collection.

Upper management is the key to getting all team members to adhere to better data hygiene standards, which can save a lot of effort in cleaning up data after it’s been collected.

Next Steps & Final Thoughts

One of the last items to consider is how an organization’s data can be improved through continual audits and enhancements. From time to time, it’s a good idea to audit an organization’s overall level of data hygiene and see if there are any ways in which it can be tweaked to be better. At the same time, audits are also a good time to explore where new data types can lead to better insights or fill gaps in decision making.

Exceptional data hygiene will have long-term benefits and potentially save a nonprofit from using unnecessary resources to clean up their data, or worse, relying on dirty data to make important business decisions. Acknowledging that your data needs cleaning isn’t enough, but having good data hygiene for your nonprofit can be done with the right approach and overall priority for data integrity.

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