Would you fly in an airplane that had never been tested? Of course not. Yet every day, associations are using their production/live databases for testing new processes, which is just like testing a new airplane with a full load of passengers.
As I write in my book Put Your Data to Work: 52 Tips and Techniques for Effectively Managing Your Database, (available here), there are three critical reasons for having a test environment (exact copy of your live database): documentation, training, and testing.
One of the key benefits to a test environment is that you’re not mucking up your live database with bogus data. Too often when I work with clients, I’ll come across records in their live database like “Mickey Mouse” or “Wile E. Coyote.” Of course, these are not real people, but bogus records being used for testing. Which should never occur in a live database.
There’s much more about this in the book, but suffice it to say that if you don’t have a test environment for your database now, you need one. Now.