Transforming Data Cleanup into a Strategic Opportunity

by Tanya Kennedy Luminati Posted on June 17, 2024

We work with a lot of associations, databases, and data. Unlike a fine wine, data does not get better with age. It ages rather poorly, in fact, like a loaf of bread. One moment it seems fine, and the next moment it is in the trash.

While a handful of organizations are truly not connecting the dots (I had one staff person tell me, years ago, ‘Why should I care if there is a 75% bounce rate on our newsletter? What I care about is that the email is being sent, not whether it is being received’), most staff understand the cost of bad data. They understand that each email bounce, for example, means a member isn’t receiving information, isn’t being prompted to register for the next webinar, and isn’t being engaged in understanding the value of their membership dollar. Each bounce also chips away at the association’s all-powerful sending reputation.

But many people just don’t see making time for data cleanup a priority. They approach data cleanup as an onerous, time-wasting expense. No one wants to touch it with a 10-foot pole and the poor staff assigned to ‘deal with it’ are desperate for the fastest, cheapest, most automated solution possible so that they can push the whole data cleanup experience behind them, like waking from a bad dream.

The most successful associations take a different approach to data maintenance. They approach data review as a treasure hunt. There’s gold in them thar bounces! 

In a recent membership department meeting with one of my trade association clients, we dedicated a portion of the meeting to studying bounces on the key committees. We had bounces in one browser tab and LinkedIn on another tab, following the trail of each bounce to a person’s work history. One man had moved from a member to another member; easy fix in the database. One woman had moved from a member to a prospective member and immediately the membership team member was firing off a LinkedIn message to her, hoping to connect and win a new member.

An email bounce can also be a great excuse to engage members verbally. Yes, verbally. So often, people view a ‘cold call’ with great trepidation, but a polite inquiry to clarify contact information gets the foot in the door for a meaningful transaction, potentially leading to a conversation or even a conversion.I’m calling from The Association. You are on our sustainability committee, but we noticed that our recent notes bounced from your email. Could I have 4 minutes of your time to update your record?’ and of course during that call, perhaps you note that they aren’t registered for the Annual Meeting … why not? Is it too far? Too expensive? Not valuable? Thank them for their time and insight, and tuck away your new tidbit of knowledge. After a dozen of these calls, you might even start to identify an even more valuable trend. 

Here’s what I tell my clients, when they aren’t sure where or how to start with data cleanup:

Several years ago, I did a talk at the ASAE Annual Meeting, entitled “10 Minutes a Day Keeps the Data Doctor Away”. What I said back then is just as true today: data maintenance is a steady, ongoing process. Organization staff too often get so overwhelmed by the overarching task of ‘We need to clean up our data’ that analysis paralysis takes over. They don’t think that handling a few pieces of data each day will matter. But it will matter, and it will pay off. 

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