Data Hygiene for Higher Education Institutions: 5 Tips

As a higher education professional, you’re constantly juggling the needs of multiple stakeholders, including current students, alumni, and donors. How can you reach all of these groups and efficiently communicate with them?

It all starts with data. Data allows you to personalize your marketing and fundraising campaigns and ensure you reach the right supporters. As a result, you’ll better engage your stakeholders and form lasting relationships with them.

However, for your data to be useful, it needs to be clean and accurate. Follow along to discover how your higher education institution can practice proper data hygiene.

1. Audit your database.

The first step in the data hygiene process is an audit. According to Deep Sync’s data hygiene guide, an audit is crucial to help you assess the current state of your data and determine the next steps you should take. That way, you can remain focused with a clear action plan for cleaning up your data.

Your school’s database audit process should include:

  • Determining your goals. Start by developing goals that will drive your efforts forward and help you decide which data points to focus on. For example, if you’re running a capital campaign, you’ll likely focus on organizing your major donor data since these will be the main contributors to your campaign. Alternatively, if you’re launching an alumni email marketing campaign, aim to update all alumni email addresses.
  • Consolidating your data. Next, put all of your data in the same place, preferably a centralized database or constituent relationship management system (CRM). Pulling information together from disparate spreadsheets, platforms, and physical forms will make it much easier to clean and organize.
  • Identifying inaccuracies. With your important constituent information in one place, comb through it to identify any inaccuracies you’ll have to resolve. Take note of the severity of each issue and how long it will take your team to rectify.

In addition to setting your campaign up for success, the auditing process can help you find any gaps in your database that can be filled by conducting a data append or activating a custom marketing audience. For example, if campus tours, social media, and mailing list signups aren’t enough to reach potential students, your school can use third-party student marketing data to reach more potential students and expand your audience.

2. Establish data governance.

Once you have a better understanding of what data you have in your CRM, what data you need, and how you plan to resolve any data inaccuracies or problem areas, it’s time to assign data responsibilities to the appropriate team members. Depending on the size of your project, you may have one point-person for data management or separate roles for:

  • Data entry
  • Data verification
  • Data updates
  • Data analysis

Make sure each person’s responsibilities and associated deadlines are clear to maintain efficiency. You should also train all team members on how to properly handle your organization’s data so they can fill in for other team members as necessary.

3. Remove inaccuracies.

Now, your team can act on the inaccuracies or inconsistencies you’ve found in your database to ensure you’re reaching the right people with your marketing and fundraising efforts. One of the top ways to cleanse your database is to use suppression services that rid your database of unuseful information. Common types of suppression include:

  • Do Not Mail, which identifies the names and physical or email addresses of those who have requested not to receive direct marketing solicitations
  • Deceased, which removes deceased individuals from your database to prevent the decedent’s family from receiving unwanted mail
  • Deduplication, which removes name, address, email, or phone records that appear multiple times in your CRM

Beyond suppression, other ways to remove inaccuracies within your database include merging duplicate records on your own or using an email scrubbing tool to identify any outdated or incorrect email addresses.

4. Develop data hygiene standards.

Data hygiene is an ongoing process. With clear data hygiene standards and procedures in place, you can prevent mass disorganization and empower your team members to get ahead of potential errors. Start by deciding how your team should standardize:

  • Mailing addresses. Decide if you’d like to use address abbreviations like “St.” and “Ln.” or spell out the full words “Street” and “Lane.”
  • Phone numbers. When inputting phone numbers, you may choose to add the country code if you have constituents from around the globe or omit it if all of your contacts are from your country. Additionally, decide if you’d like to put parentheses around the area code or just use dashes between each set of numbers.
  • Titles and abbreviations. Your alumni have likely gone on to be successful leaders in their fields. Will you label them as “CEO” or spell out “Chief Executive Officer”? Similarly, will you label students with a family name as “Jr.” or “Junior”?

While these may seem like small distinctions, standardizing your data entry will make it much easier to sort through records and organize your database. 

Additionally, develop a plan for how team members should handle errors and prevent unnecessary information from building up. For instance, you may limit the information you collect on forms and surveys so you’re only storing the most important data.

5. Put your data to use.

With clean data, the possibilities are endless for your data-driven marketing and fundraising efforts. To get you started, here are some common ways to incorporate data into your operations:

  • Tailor your donation requests. Use information about donors’ giving history to make appropriate donation requests. For example, if an alum contributed $500 to your last fundraising campaign, ask them if they’d be willing to donate $550 to your current initiative. While this amount is slightly higher than the previous donation, it still aligns with the donor’s giving capacity, and including a specific amount may encourage them to contribute more than a generic ask would.
  • Solicit matching gifts. According to Double the Donation’s alumni donation statistics guide, matching gifts are on the rise, with over 26 million people working for companies with matching gift programs. Using the employer data in your CRM, you can identify which of your alumni are eligible for matching gifts and encourage them to submit a matching gift request to their employer to double the impact of their contributions.
  • Personalize your stewardship efforts. Once a donor contributes to your institution, build a relationship with them that reflects their background, values, and commitment to your university. For instance, you may identify major donors in your CRM and steward them by hosting a gala in their honor. Another data-driven stewardship approach may be to send donors updates about the specific initiatives they supported, such as a new building or academic offering.

To accomplish these tasks more efficiently, segment the supporters in your database based on shared characteristics. This practice helps ensure you can easily personalize your communications to different constituent groups. For instance, you may create segments for each graduating class and send them an email blast each year marking the anniversary of their graduation.

To keep up with others in the higher education sector and properly engage your stakeholders, data-driven marketing and fundraising are key. With clean data, you can be confident you’ll reach your supporters with messages that resonate with them and continue their loyalty to your school.

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