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Mary, Mary, How Does Your Data Grow

24 Oct 2018 12:32 PM | Kim Palumbarit (Administrator)

In July of this year, Krista Berg and Cynthia Lee wrote a two-part article for Apra Connections, “Mary, Mary, How Does Your Data Grow?” all about building and maintaining data audits. You can access the full article here (part 1, part 2), but they've written up a few highlights/excerpts to share with Apra-NW.


We in prospect development can agree that the bedrock of our work is trust in our expertise and our data. Bad data will stick out and data needs to be tended and weeded to grow. But how to manage this? How do we preserve our data integrity and not lose the good opinion of our development officers? Here at the University of Washington (UW), we know our data cannot properly flourish without careful monitoring. Thus, data audits were born.

Our prospect management team has been running audits for more than 10 years. Our audits are based in an Access database using queries. We run audits daily, monthly, quarterly, and semi-annually. The most recent update to our audit process is maintaining proper documentation. We now have a manual that lays out for each audit both the purpose and instructions for cleaning up results, as well as an archival process for audits we no longer need or use. We have examples of the different audit categories in our full article.

We would argue that everyone needs data audits, even if they are only run once a year. We suggest formatting your argument around your organization’s core: its values. Values lead to policy, policy leads to procedures, and procedures lead to business rules. One of the best tools for making sure these business rules are being followed is audits. Our leadership shares these values, so they support our choice to audit. In addition to leadership buy-in, you may have to convince your team (or yourself) that audits are feasible. Audits are necessary and doable. You will quickly discover that you can invest as little or as much time as you want in audits and there will be a huge return on your time investment.

Once you have leadership buy-in to build a robust data auditing process, the next step is figuring out what exactly to audit. We suggest thinking about things like:

     What are your most common data entry errors?

     Is there a notification you like to provide to your fundraisers, but pulling it manually is tedious?

     Do you have processes that could benefit from automation?

     What stands out most to your leadership?


All of these are things you can build audits for whether you are savvy in SQL or just starting out in Excel.

You also have to start thinking about how you access your data. Our audits are built in Access using our CRM’s base tables. If you are among the lucky few who have similar access to your database, Access is an easy tool to use for digging into your prospect records and portfolios. Your database may also have mass change capability and/or a query tool, both of which could be used for auditing. If you do not have direct access or mass change capabilities, you can still query your data either by using the filters in your database or by exporting information to Excel. We have an example of a query you could write yourself in Excel in our full article.

Audits do not have to be a huge time or technology investment. We truly believe anyone can do this – you can do this. There is no wrong way to audit; if the end data is cleaner than it was before you began, it is a win.

Remember, data audits…

1.       Are critical to establish trust in your data.

2.       Can be flexible. They can be run on any schedule, with any criteria.

3.       Do not require advanced technical tools. They can be simple.


Krista Berg is a prospect management strategist at the University of Washington. She has been working in development for over 10 years, starting as a student caller at the UW. She is also the current president of Apra-NW.

Cynthia Lee is a prospect management strategist at the University of Washington. She has been working in development for over 10 years and in prospect management since 2011.

If you have follow up questions about this article or about creating your own data audits, feel free to reach out to Krista or Cynthia.


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If you, or someone on your team, has content you would like to submit to this Apra-NW blog on prospect management, research, or any related subject, please send it to our Communications Director, Alexa Makhani

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