Associations commit huge amounts of financial and human resources to selecting the right database and configuring it to store their member records. When executed with proper thought and planning, the database can be the best source of information about members. For that reason, organization leaders need to commit the same effort to maintaining the stored data as they gave to selecting the database system itself.
Data integrity’s significance
Inaccurate, incomplete, or missing data can lead to members not receiving association benefits that they expect. Further, having accurate information on member preferences has a strong impact on customer satisfaction in that it allows an organization to deliver appropriate and customized content.
Finally, correct information saves organizations money and increases the success of their marketing efforts. Using targeted marketing, which requires accurate member information, allows organizations to reduce postage and printing costs. The success of data mining, which allows marketers to identify the best recipients for promotions, is directly related to the level of completeness and correctness of the data.
Quality control targets
A high undeliverable rate with mail, fax, or e-mail communication is the first indication that you may have a problem with your data. At ASAE, we have identified four areas of focus for improving and maintaining the integrity of our records.
Informational changes. Because people change jobs and companies relocate, it is essential that you offer members several methods to update their contact information. ASAE receives a large volume (an average of 621 per month) of address changes through its Web site. We experience this high rate partially because the “Update Member Information” option is highly visible on our home page—topping the list of options that appear on the left-hand side once the member is logged in. Our second-largest source of address changes is returned mail. Fortunately, the U.S. Postal Service offers a program, the Address Change Service, that provides updated address information when mail is sent to wrong addresses. In addition, we are launching a program in which we will e-mail a reminder to members on their six-month membership anniversary to update their information. We already send such a reminder on their annual renewal notices.
Standards. It is imperative to establish standards for data entry of basic records. ASAE developed standards for entering contact information based on the Postal Service’s guidelines (for example, Street should be abbreviated as St.).Using the Postal Service’s facilitates easy export of the data for mailings and helps ensure consistency in the membership directory.
Typos. Data entry staff members are human, and like our association management systems, they do not come equipped with built-in spell checkers. Therefore, omissions and typographical errors are inevitable. While many spelling errors, such as those in surnames, remain difficult to catch, today’s software systems allow for simple spot checks to help identify some errors. At ASAE, data entry errors are identified using queries (database searches). We can, for example, do a search for entries that include Street instead of St.
Incomplete information. One way ASAE has increased its number of complete records is by using Internet search engines to find missing data such as addresses, ZIP codes, and job titles. To complete missing demographic data (such as gender, years in the field, and education), you may need to formally solicit information. We recently achieved a 45 percent response rate when we mailed a form requesting verification of various kinds of information and preferences. Such a solicitation should be done once a year.
Data integrity cannot be accomplished overnight, and the job is never finished. However, committing to an ongoing effort to achieve data integrity goals and making use of tools and efficiencies available will help your organization maintain those goals once you’ve reached them.
This article was originally published in September 2003 as the ASAE UpFront Column in Association Management Magazine.