[Donor Management System] Data Hygiene & Best Practices

As more and more information is added to your DMS site, having data consistency is key to allow you to effectively perform the tasks you expect to. As an example, without proper naming conventions, searching for Groups or Funds will give you partial and/or inaccurate results.

This article will layout best practices on how to build a proper data hygiene routine to ensure the ongoing homogeneity of your data.

Data Hygiene: The Bigger Picture

  • A few factors can be considered in order to build a proper data hygiene routine.
  • All these factors are used to ensure the ongoing homogeneity of your data.

Contributions & Contact Notes

  • Both Contributions and Contacts allow for Notes, while this can be a useful tool, it is beneficial to use them with some considerations in mind:
  • Consider adopting an organisation-wide Notes structure.
  • As Notes are a searchable item through Advanced Search, adopting a Notes structure can assist in capturing all relevant data in a single search.

Examples of search structure

“Item 1: Sub item 1”
“Item 1: Sub item 2”

“Favourite colour: Red”
“Favourite colour: Blue”

  • Avoid using the Notes fields as catch-alls for all data. Always seek an appropriate standard field first.
    • Example: “Son of John Smith” as a Note while the DMS has a dedicated “Relationship” functionality for contacts. 
  • Notes should be used as a last resort or for quick or temporary internal notes.

Naming Industry Standards

  • Whether it is Funds, Campaigns or Campaign Groups, your organization should decide on a consistent behaviour in regards to structure.

Use of generic funds VS single-use funds

  • “Back to School” for multiple campaigns or appeals VS “Pens & Pencils” & “Desks & Chairs”
    • Benefit: fewer Funds to filter and browse through More straightforward reporting.
    • Risk: this could potentially add complexity to searches and reports depending on how detailed your organisation wants to be in reporting and communications back to the donor.

Campaign Groups 

  • Campaign Groups reflect the major areas of philanthropic activity of your organization. Each campaign will be linked to a campaign group which represents a high level
  • Once you have configured your campaign groups, they should remain consistent over time and you will only add a new campaign group if you add a new major initiative to your fundraising program.

Industry Standards

  • Individual Giving
  • Corporate Giving
  • Foundation Giving
  • Special Events
  • Third-Party Events

These may or may not relate to your charity:

  • Planned Giving
  • Government Giving


  • To organize your Campaign Groups, it is possible to use a numbering system that will influence the way Campaign Groups show up in dropdown menus and reports:
    • Example: 1. Individual Giving; 2. Corporate Giving


  • A best practice would be to adopt a naming convention in order to keep lists clean and concise.
  • The use of delimiters (“-” “:” “ “) should be consistent across all campaigns, from year-to-year.
  • The general wording structure should also be consistent, with variables ordered similarly across.

“2020 Holiday Cheers” VS “Holiday Cheers – 2019”

Note: If exact Campaign names are reused, a search or Report that is not time-limited would bring up Contacts and Contributions for all previous years.

Tags and Groups for Contacts

  • Tags and Groups are areas that greatly benefit from a more rigid structure as they are primarily meant to aid in organising contacts for repeated, continuous searches and Reports.

When is it appropriate to use a Tag VS using a Group?

  • There are no hard rules about using tags over using groups. In general, Tags are used for temporary, more high-level information that you might want to use as a search criterion in addition to a group.

Group: “Volunteers” “Employees”
Tags: “Full-time” “Part-time”

  • By using a combination of Groups and Tags, you would be able to pull a quick search of all your part-time volunteers.

Limiting the number of Tags

  • It is generally preferable to limit the number of Tags available at any time as well as limit which employees can add or remove Tags.

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