October 11, 2018

Put Your Data House in Order with Data Governance

Put Your Data House in Order with Data Governance

What keeps association professionals up at night? I know, you have a long list. When Marketing General Inc. (MGI) asked that question for its membership marketing benchmarking report, the answers included:

  • Data hygiene
  • Data quality
  • Mining data with a limited staff

MGI also asked: What would make your association run smoother? Here’s what one person said:

“More emphasis on utilizing member data to make decisions, coming from the top down. We have the information, and the capability, but this needs to be more widely spread throughout the culture.”

Data-informed decisions and organizational culture change may seem like lofty goals, but they’re realistic ones. You can achieve them by taking steps to get your data house in order. Data governance is one of the secrets for getting more sleep at night.

The Power of Small Data

Data analytics is on the minds of many in the association community. You’ve probably read (or skimmed) articles and attended educational sessions about “leveraging the power of big data.” But you don’t need big data to reap the benefits of data analytics.

You already have data about members, customers, attendees, prospects, and other stakeholders in your association management software (AMS) and other systems. You can use this data to better understand the behavior, preferences, and interests of members and other stakeholders. This knowledge can guide your decisions about content, marketing, programs, and strategy.

The data in your care can help you understand membership trends, for example, what activities seem to have a positive influence on retention, or what membership segments are most at-risk for not renewing. It can provide a more complete picture of a member, for example, how much a member company contributes to different association activities, like sponsorship, PAC donations, dues, registration fees, exhibit fees, and so on.

Based on what you learn about your members and prospects, you can develop a differentiated communication and marketing strategy targeted to the stages of the member journey—recruiting, onboarding, maintaining, and renewing. With insights grounded in data, you can develop relevant messaging for each stage based on member needs and interests.

These goals are within reach for your association as long as you have data management procedures and processes that keep your data clean, complete, and accessible.

The Strategic Importance of Data Governance

Technology, like a good AMS, is only one part of the formula for data integrity. You must have the right processes and standards in place, and a team working together to create a smart data culture in your organization.

Data governance requires an organization-wide understanding that data is not just IT’s job because data isn’t just an IT concern. Data is a strategic asset and should be recognized as such by executives, volunteer leaders, and staff.

Executive Support

Every association needs at least one executive who understands the importance of data governance. This executive sponsor ensures that fellow leadership and staff recognize the strategic value of the data in their care.

Your colleagues will never pay enough attention to data unless they understand why the integrity of your organization’s data—its accuracy, consistency, and completeness—is so important. They must see the impact that good (or bad) data has on your organization’s work. The executive sponsor helps deliver this message to department heads and the rest of the organization.

Data Governance Team

With the support of the executive sponsor, put together a cross-functional team of business owners or super-users of data in your organization. For example, the team could include a representative from the membership, finance, meetings, education, advocacy, and IT departments.

Team members must be staff who understand your organization’s strategic goals, and are committed to helping the association use data to achieve those goals. The data governance team plans how your association collects, maintains, and uses data for the benefit of the entire association. They make sure staff and leaders have the data they need to make decisions.

Data Team Leader

The leader of the data governance team must be a business user of data, but not part of the IT department. They take ownership and responsibility for your association’s data. The team leader must have the support of staff leadership to champion and enforce data quality practices.

The Duties of Your Data Governance Team

The data governance team’s responsibilities include:

  • Developing data entry procedures that promote accuracy.
  • Creating a data style guide to ensure consistency.
  • Developing a user’s guide that explains how to handle different scenarios, for example, what to do if an email bounces, a member leaves a company, or a member dies.
  • Reviewing data integrity reports to identify problems such as missing or invalid emails, and missing primary contacts.
  • Working with the IT department to arrange security awareness training for staff and to ensure systems comply with a high level of data security.

Wes Trochlil, founder of Effective Database Management, also suggests the data governance team practice “database PR.” The team members are data ambassadors who tell staff about AMS improvements, share examples of how the AMS helps different departments, and explain the reasons for new data policies and procedures.

The data governance team makes sure new staff get AMS training tailored to their use of the AMS. They follow up with staff who need booster training or individual coaching. They work with senior management and department heads to make sure they understand the type of data in the AMS and how to access reports they may find useful.

The team also organizes user group meetings to discuss new reports, new data uses, complaints, integration issues, and the AMS roadmap.

Get to Know Your Data

You can’t govern what you don’t know. One of the first tasks of the data governance team is to find out how data is collected and where it resides throughout the organization. Who keeps member, customer, attendee, prospect, and stakeholder data in databases and spreadsheets? One way to find this data is to follow the money—data is attached to revenue.

You must be able to track and measure member engagement. Identify the member engagement data you collect, such as event registration, volunteering, leadership service, email opens and clicks, downloads, and system-generated data (online community, LMS, CMS, etc.).

Track down rogue databases, but watch how you treat those who are maintaining them. Sometimes they have a good reason, for example, the old database was full of bad data, or they can’t create the reports they need. Or, another system tracks unique fields for specific purposes—fields you don’t want in the AMS. If you want the ability to use that data in reports, your AMS must have an API that makes integration possible.

You don’t have to keep every type of data in your AMS, but don’t tolerate separate databases containing the same fields as the ones in your AMS, otherwise you’ll end up with duplicate records with conflicting information.

One you understand the different types of data in your association’s care, figure out which data is used by staff or volunteer leaders to support your organization’s strategic and business goals, and which data no longer serves a purpose. Archive or purge unused data unless it’s needed to comply with regulations.

This data investigation is especially valuable if you plan to switch to a new AMS—another topic that keeps association professionals up at night. You’ll know which data to clean, export from your database and other systems to the new AMS, archive, or purge. In our next post, we’ll share tactics for collecting and updating member data.


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