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Data Cleanup Best Practices: Advice from One Who’s Been There

Meredith Mahon Morris September 29, 2011

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No joke, when I heard Lesley Baker was joining the staff at ACS Technologies, the first word that popped into my head was: “Score!”

Lesley was a longtime ACS Technologies client – a super-user, really – and a popular speaker at our annual Ideas to Impact Conference. Now, she’s an Implementation Specialist, and we’re delighted to have her years of “in-the-trenches” experience.

I’m looking forward to sharing some of Lesley’s expertise with our readers and clients over the coming months, and to get started, I talked to Lesley about a topic she has a lot of experience with: database cleanup best practices. Her classes on getting people to follow these practices have been called the “herding cats” classes … I told you, Lesley gets it!

Here’s a little Q & A I had with Lesley recently while she was on the road visiting and working with clients all over the country:

Eleanor: I’ve heard clients say that it’s important to define what a “clean database” means at your church – it could have a different definition at different organizations. What’s your take on how that’s done?

Lesley: It really is subjective. It has to be based on each church and how they’ve structured ACS and how they use it. In terms of data integrity, it’s important to rely on each staff member to be a stake holder in data integrity. That means that any time a staff member interacts with a congregant on a regular basis, volunteers especially, they need to obtain up-to-date data on those people. Just ask them, “are you sure we have your current address? Can I get your phone number? I want to be sure we have your email address.” Everyone needs to see this as important.

However, database cleanup needs to be done by one person: Data integrity is every staff member’s responsibility, but database cleanup is not.

Eleanor: So how often does database cleanup need to be done?

Lesley: I recommend creating a schedule – there is cleanup that should be done weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually. Every week, you can search for incomplete profiles based on expectations you set on what fields should have been populated when you created new profiles. You can search for missing gender, missing marital status, or missing member status type. Then, once a month, you could check up on deceased individuals, or check up on first-time guests and the tracking expectations you’ve set for them.

A quarterly cleanup could include inactivating profiles, which may then get deleted on an annual basis, depending on your rules and standards. But be careful about deleting – I generally advise people to be liberal with inactivations but conservative with deleting.

Eleanor: So how do you keep your database clean once that first big cleanup is done?

Lesley: Well, the first cleanup is always the hardest. But after that’s done, you need to keep what’s coming into your system good. One of the best methods is just to limit the number of people who have rights to create new profiles or add family members. You need enough people with rights that you don’t end up with a backlog, but go ahead and set guidelines for that select group of individuals on what fields must be populated when new profiles are created.

Then, you want to create accountability for that group of select users. You may have to provide feedback when the policy isn’t being followed, or you may even need to set up a retraining policy—after 3 strikes, your department goes through retraining.

Keep an eye out for more tips and ideas from Lesley here on our community site, and if you have any questions for Lesley or ideas for topics you’d like to see us address here, leave a comment! We’d love to hear from you.

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