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Spring Cleaning Your House File

This year, we welcomed spring on the East Coast with a wintery mix. As most random thought processes go, the mess of rain, sleet, and general slush on the streets got me thinking about how it was the perfect time for spring cleaning. This further spiraled into thoughts of organizing my home, but instead of going down that rabbit hole, I decided it would be more productive to focus on professional organization—namely, how data housekeeping and cleanliness affects the performance of one’s direct mail program.

So, mailers, why is it important to keep your house file clean?

Depending on who you’re talking to and the area of the direct mail industry they work in, you’ll likely get a different response. Regardless of those varying opinions, most direct marketers can agree on these top reasons to maintain a clean house file.

Program Strategy:

  • Budgeting and projections – When analyzing results for future projections and budgets, it’s best to have accurate and updated results.
  • Targeting is more accurate – Clean data shows who to reach and with what package (if you have multiple controls that mail at once).
  • Personalizing mail – The cleanest data is going to be the best for personalization so donors feel that you know them. This can be especially important across channels.


Reporting & Analytics:

  • Clean files with standardized fields support analysis efforts in all facets of evaluation: garbage in = garbage out.
  • Proprietary reporting statistics – Accuracy can suffer if there are duplicate accounts for the same person and if corporations or foundations aren’t being tracked correctly.
  • Match backs, which show the value of your direct mail program in generating online and white mail gifts, won’t be as accurate without clean name and address data.

List Brokerage & Management:

  • When building models with co-ops, you want them to model your best people. Sending dirty records increases the chance a model will be returned with inaccurate logic.
  • Accurate donor records help co-ops NOT rent back to you the names you already own.
  • With rental or exchange files, other mailers don’t want to rent your donors at wrong addresses or DMA Panders that they can’t use. Giving mailers these names will hurt their results, so they won’t want to use your file again.

Printing & Production:

  • Clean data lowers the overall cost because you’re not mailing bad names and duplicates— ensuring deliverability—and no one has to be paid to process the returns/rejects.
  • If a “bad” name gets mailed and delivered, it will appear to the donor or potential donor that you don’t know who they are, thus, taking away the impact of personalization.
  • A file with duplicates that are delivered will mislead the ask strategy and skew results. 

With all of these compelling reasons, you’re probably wondering how in the world you start the process of cleaning up your house file.

Here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Hire a service partner that understands your needs and why you’re interested in undergoing this project.
  • Make sure you develop a solution that makes it easy to 1) keep individuals/corporations/foundations flagged correctly, 2) keep promotional history and costs updated, and 3) keep you from creating new/duplicate records for the same donor (and clean these up by combining dupe accounts at least annually).
  • Once all records are organized, you’ll want to run several standard direct mail processes (NCOA, DMA Pander, CASS, and deceased flagging) on the file so you know that your nice clean data is now also up to date.

Now that you’ve read my helpful thoughts on why it’s so very important to keep your data clean and suggestions on where to begin, do I have any volunteers to help me take on spring cleaning my house?

Lauren Cathey

Account Executive, National Fundraising Lists