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Tips for “Cleaning Up” the Database

My clients often ask me for best practices when it comes to “cleaning” data. I’ve written an entire book on data management. One of the best ways to clean your database is to deactivate or delete records that are no longer useful.

Here are three suggestions I recommend to any association for identifying which individual and organization records to get rid of:

  1. If the record hasn’t had any activity in three years (e.g., no membership, no donations, no event attendance, etc.), delete it. (If you can’t delete, deactivate.)
  2. Any record with a financial record attached should be kept for seven years (for audit purposes, unless your auditors suggest a different timeline).
  3. “Incomplete” records can be deleted or augmented, depending on when they were entered in the system and how “valuable” you think they might be. “Incomplete” is how you define it. For example, if the record has no email and no physical address, you can delete it (assuming rule #1 and #2 above also apply). If the record has no physical address but has an email address, you could do an email campaign to have the customer update their physical address (if you need that info) and then delete those who don’t respond. By the same token, if the record has a physical address but no email address, you could do a postcard campaign to those addresses to collect email addresses.

Data accretes over time, like stalagmites and stalactites. This kind of data cleaning is necessary periodically, ideally done once per year. “Throwing away” useless data helps to reduce screen noise and improve the staff’s experience in the database.