Zela & Blanca cats

Spring Cleaning Your Database

If you’re anything like me, there are tasks that you can’t stand and will procrastinate until you can’t

If you’re anything like me, there are tasks that you can’t stand and will procrastinate until you can’t anymore. For me it’s cleaning the cat litter (urgh), watering plants, and reading the countless newsletters I subscribe to (you should see my “reading” folder!). It’s easy to shrug it off – to a certain extent – until you can’t any longer. Both my cats, Zela & Blanca (pictured here at 4 months old), will give me an earful if I don’t do the litter boxes after 2 days!


Which brings me to this question: when was the last time you checked the accuracy and integrity of your legacy data? Does it need cleaning up in order to be more efficient?


This often becomes a heated conversation when we start talking about identifying legacy prospects during our Online Legacy Bootcamp. We then have to address the challenges that participants face with their data hygiene.


Charities collect a lot of data and often, this data may be entered in databases inconsistently or may be incomplete. There are various reasons why this may happen:

  • The amount of data is so overwhelming that reviewing it may take longer than entering it in the database;
  • Not having clearly defined ways in which data is coded in the database which means data entry is inconsistent;
  • Every person that enters data has their own formatting preferences so you end up with street names written differently, etc.;
  • Reporting needs change but the coding doesn’t and now you have wonky data or reports.


These and many more database (read: human) failures will mean having dirty data resulting in increased stress, aggravation and cost. For instance, one charity I worked at many years ago had three different databases, none of which talked to one another, and every user had their own way of entering data …. quel nightmare!


Slow down now to go faster later

The idea of cleaning up your database can seem as exciting as cleaning my cats’ litter boxes 🙄


All kidding aside, it’s hard work that isn’t exactly all that much fun. But it may be the best gift you can give to yourself. In six months, when it’s time to send a legacy appeal to enquirers, you’ll be happy the data is accurate and up to date.


As you prepare to tackle this project, here are a few simple tips:

  1. Take a hard look at the data and come up with a list of all the things that are inconsistent, incorrect or require further consideration.
  2. Rank the list in priority according to these two factors:
    • Rank some easy to complete items “high priority” to give yourself a sense of accomplishment and momentum;
    • Also rank a fix that is crucial to making data pulls and report generation accurate and automated with minimal manual manipulation as “high priority.” The investment of effort will be a time saver since you will not be continuously fixing the same mistakes every time you pull the data.


The hard truth is that data is dynamic and will never be 100% accurate. If there’s something on your list that won’t affect your day to day work, then you can rank them lower in your priority list or remove them altogether.


Armed with your ranked list in place, take 15-30 minutes per day and chip away at cleaning up the data. Or, enlist the help of a vendor that specializes in this or hire an intern. Pay special attention to how data is coded and why.


Ask yourself:

  • Are the items we’re currently tracking meet our reporting needs?
  • Are there new pieces of data that we want to begin tracking?


Make sure that what’s being tracked is robust enough to generate meaningful insights, but not so complicated that you need a manual to update any single code.



Next, audit the reports you run to measure your legacy program. Are they run out of the database or in Excel? At what intervals do you run them? If you don’t have a systematic way of reviewing your legacy pipeline, reassess what you’re tracking and measuring and how you export that data. You can do this by putting together a list of current and desired reports along with a timeline for generating each one. 


Then, create a timeline of what can be implemented in the short, medium and long-term.


Still using paper?

Not all charities have gone completely digital and in estate management, there can be a lot of paperwork. Doing a paper purge can feel so liberating, especially if it hasn’t been done in years (or decades!).


Anything that can be digitized and appended to a constituent record should be done as soon as possible, such as newspaper clippings, signed donor agreements, etc.


In the case of legacies and estate administration, legal paper files are necessary so it’s important to check with your regulatory bodies on the laws regarding safeguarding these types of documents (duration, form, archival and security requirements, etc.). Some documents may be scanned and saved while others may need to be kept in physical form.


Doing this work is not the most exciting but with some careful planning and willingness to tackle a virtual dirty job, you too can set yourself up for some great efficiencies and potential new insights.


Heads up!

We’re gearing up for the next cohort of the Online Legacy Bootcamp starting on May 13. For this 4th cohort, there will be a revamped and refreshed program. This is your chance to learn more about how to start or reboot a legacy program. Registration is open and you can save your virtual seat by visiting this page.

Pin It

Leave a Comment