What Are Duplicate Records in Your Donor Management System Costing You?

Oct 2, 2018

Duplicate records in any database can wreak havoc in more ways than one, and the associated costs remain hidden in plain sight. For any nonprofit, data that is clean and accurate is crucial for your organization to experience growth and success in the future.

The problem with duplicate data: it can lead to issues that you may not be aware of until you’re knee-deep. It is then that the task of de-duping the database becomes absolutely necessary.

Not only is there a monetary cost associated with correcting duplicate records, but this data may also cause relationships with donors and supporters to suffer.

For nonprofits looking to make the most of their data, continue on to see how duplicate records in your database may be costing you.

A Refresher on Data Hygiene

If you’re unfamiliar with this term, data hygiene is relatively straightforward as it prioritizes the integrity of your data. By all accounts, your data should aim to be as true as it can be to rely upon for future use and analysis.

Your stored data must be both accurate and consistent, but also free from undocumented alteration. The trustworthiness of your data should never be questioned, so implementing a solution to maintain integrity is required.

Data hygiene is all about taking the necessary steps to ensure your data is accurate and reliable. To learn more on this subject, check out our previous blog post on data hygiene best practices.

In the end, “dirty” or unreliable data can lead to poor decision making. So, while you may be hesitant to address your duplicate data problem head-on, it can end up hurting you in the long run.

How Duplicate Records Occur

Before examining how duplicate records incur unforeseen costs, here are three scenarios which demonstrate how duplicates occur.

1. Scenario: A Simple Name Change

Let’s say you have a donor in their late 20’s with a deep affinity for your nonprofit and who has been involved for many years. They’ve volunteered regularly since their college days, making small contributions over time.

Then one day, this young, working professional makes a considerable donation of $5,000. In the time since their last donation, this person got married and took the last name of their spouse. Despite this donor already being in the organization’s database, the outreach specialist went ahead and created a new entry, essentially erasing all of the information previously associated with this person.

2. Scenario: Digitizing Old Data

Although many nonprofits operate with the help of digital technology, some organizations are likely sitting on a gold mine of valuable data which simply needs to be digitized.

Take for example a private school that has an old records room filled with information about school alumni. Once the information has been entered manually into some kind of spreadsheet, the process would just be a simple import, right?

In this example, the school database administrator may have failed to create an appropriate method for combining this new set of data with their existing database. Because of this, the consolidation efforts inadvertently created hundreds of separate records for individuals already existing in the system.

3. Scenario: Merging Data from Multiple Sources

Organizations across the world must contend with the problems of having their data live in many different places; the same is certainly true for nonprofits.

When an organization’s data needs grow, organizations will likely want to identify a single system of record (SoR). A SoR is a helpful tool in maintaining data hygiene while also providing a more complete picture of your supporters.

But let’s say that an organization wants to migrate existing CRM data into a new SoR. While carrying this out, connections to an existing record were not made due to data inconsistencies between the previous systems. Because software and applications rarely communicate with each other very well, proper data mapping is crucial so that the data going in matches the rules and structure of the SoR.

The result—new data sets were created because the data did not line up appropriately.

How Duplicates are Costing Nonprofits

As alluded to earlier, duplicate records can be detrimental to a nonprofit in many ways. In the end, duplicates can hold back progress, robbing them of potential donations, and straining relationships with donors and supporters.

  • Wasted Time & Effort: The most obvious problem caused by duplicates is the wasted time and effort it takes to not only de-dupe and correct but also on outreach efforts. For example, let’s say that an outreach specialist attempts connecting with a donor but multiple entries for the same person have conflicting information. The time wasted trying to filter out the correct data is time that could have been spent on more valuable activities. Over time, this wasted effort will begin to add up.
  • Inconsistent Communication/Engagement: Nonprofits have to strike a delicate balance between engaging donors enough without being too overbearing. With duplicate data, striking that balance is near impossible. Organizations run the risk of communicating too often or too little, resulting in poor donor engagement.
  • Monetary Costs: If left unchecked, duplicate data can fester and eventually become out of control. Without regular duplicate maintenance, nonprofits will need concerted data cleansing projects; either requiring lots of manual work or leveraging expensive cleansing services or software.
  • Inaccurate Reporting, Poorer Decision Making: One of the bigger problems with duplicate data is that it can ultimately impact decision making. Duplicate records are one of the leading causes of inaccurate data, meaning that data integrity becomes compromised if duplicates are not addressed. With unreliable data, leaders run the risk of making poor decisions which harm the organization.

Final Thoughts

Duplicates in your donor database are not only a pain for your database administrator—they can ultimately stunt your growth and rob you of those hard-earned donations.

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 an understanding of what causes duplicate records and how they can harm your organization is a good place to start.

Omatic Software
Omatic Software is dedicated to integrating disparate systems and democratizing data access for today’s nonprofits. Founded in 2002, Omatic has worked with thousands of nonprofits globally to remove their data barriers by integrating systems and enabling nonprofit teams to leverage their donor data rather than be burdened by it. The Omatic team has one goal – unleashing the power of data to show a complete view of your donor, enabling data-driven decision making and opportunity creation for your organization.