Keeping Up With Couples: Is Your Data Up to Date?

Today’s guest blog post is written by Katie Campbell, Data Migration Specialist, PatronManager. 

One of the questions we occasionally get here at PatronManager is “What do I do with an account for a couple who is now divorced?” As any development pro knows, addressing your annual fund mailing to a divorced “Mr. and Mrs. Jones” will likely result in both parties sending their donations elsewhere.

When this question comes up, I always think of my time spent as a personal assistant to a divorcé. He was living with his new partner at the time. One of my tasks was to comb the day’s mail for anything with his ex-wife’s name. That mail was to be chucked in the recycling, so as not to upset the new lady of the house. The divorce was a few years old at this point, but blasphemous address salutations still arrived weekly: zoo membership cards, annual fund pledge requests, and plain old junk mail. To keep the peace, those mailings never saw the light of day.

New salutations due to marriages are more often overlooked, but can still wreak havoc in your database and patron relationships. Imagine, for example, the newly minted Mr. and Mrs. Ling, who send in a $50 donation. You reply by inviting the couple to become members. You overlook the fact that Mrs. Ling, previously known to you by her maiden name of Joanne Jacobs, has been a loyal member of your organization for three years. The contact records of Mrs. Ling and Joanne Jacobs float in your database, each incomplete, and you continue to mail to Joanne Jacobs at her old address, using her old name. Oof!

Time marches on, and your patrons are always changing. You may recognize that keeping your records up-to-date is an important goal, but do you have a plan in place? Here are a few tips to jump-start the process:

  • Set internal standards. Beyond updating names and salutation fields on the newly merged or divided accounts, what else do you want to include in your marriage or divorce protocol? Perhaps you want to send an email to each party, asking them to validate or update their phone number and address? Maybe you want to call the new Mrs. Ling to invite her to upgrade to a household membership that includes her new husband?
  • Use soft credits. Like arguing over who keeps the dishes, deciding which divorcée gets to keep the couple’s donation records on their file can be tricky. This type of split can be more easily mitigated if Spouse B already has household credits for the donations directly linked to Spouse A. Take time to investigate whether soft credits affect quarterly, yearly, or lifetime totals on the account level.
  • Consider all related records. You may want to move related records from one spouse to the other beyond just donations. Other records to consider: ticket orders, subscriptions, memberships, and camp registrations.
  • Investigate the nitty-gritty. Every CRM handles merging and splitting accounts a little differently. Be sure you know the technical details of the merge or split before you begin. The last thing you want is to manually recreate records when it isn’t necessary.
  • Enlist the ears of your entire staff. Although you may want to leave the actual splitting or merging of an account to a designated development officer, everyone on your staff can keep their ears open for life events that should make their way to a patron’s record. Once staff members understand why and how you track this information, be sure they know how to flag the relevant record in the database.
  • Leave a trace. If you are currently using a relationships feature to tie your contacts to other contacts outside their account, that is a good place to acknowledge a patron’s ex-spouse. If you don’t have a specific contact-to-contact feature set up, at least be sure to note the ex-spouse’s name somewhere on the patron’s record. This will be helpful to future staff members without your institutional memory.
  • Don’t play favorites. Though it may seem obvious to you that MRS. Jones is the true patron and MR. Jones will probably never be seen again; there are good reasons to keep both contacts in your database. First, if any donations were given under Mr. Jones’ name, he may be in contact for tax purposes at the end of the year. Second, you never know when Mr. Jones may find a reason to surprise you with future involvement. Resist the temptation to delete! Preserve his records in a separate account.
  • Schedule an NCOA update every 95* days. Even with every staff member on the lookout, you are bound to miss something. Talk to your local mailing house about comparing your records against the National Change of Address registry. An NCOA won’t alert you to name or relationship changes, but it will at least lower the number of mailings sent to an outdated address.

Your organization isn’t static; neither are your patrons. A commitment to an accurate database is a commitment to your patrons, whether they are in the throes of a divorce or the flush of a new marriage. Don’t jeopardize the relationships you’ve nurtured with a simple “Mr. and Mrs.” faux pas.

*Why 95 days? That is the requirement if you have a permit to use pre-sorted non-profit postage and/or pre-sorted first class postage.

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