Why Data Is Like a Lab – Rules & Structure

How are Fundraising Databases Like a Labrador Retriever?  Reason #1 – They need Rules, Structure and Consistency

This is Barclay at eight weeks old:

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That was a tough year . . .

Dogs, especially new puppies, need rules, structure and boundaries.  And everybody in the “pack” needs to follow the same rules, otherwise you get an animal that doesn’t listen, has behavioral issues and nobody can control.

Most Labrador Retrievers are surrendered to shelters before the age of 2 because of “behavioral issues” – and most of the time it’s because those cute little fuzzy puppies turned into 75 pounds of crazy.  Because of a lack of rules.

How many times a day do you hear, “Our data is just a MESS!”

Same issue . . .

Data needs rules, structures, boundaries.

Without structure, data tends to get messy.  A whole lot of contributing factors – high staff turnover, database changes, aging data, not keeping data updated (NCOA, etc.), data entry issues.

Check out this infographic on the true cost of bad data.  (It’s basically an ad, but it’s good info).  Another ad, but also good info can be found here on the 1-10-100 rule.

The absolute best way to ensure clean, accurate data is to establish clear data protocols that everyone who touches your databaase must adhere to.  It must be inviolable law.

And it must be comprehensive:

  • How are addresses entered (i.e. “St.” vs. “Street”)
  • What are standard salutations (formal vs. informal)
  • What data is collected?
  • How is data used?
  • Who has access?

And 1,000 other questions that need to be answered.  Do a Google search on “Data Standards Manual” and you will find hundreds of examples.  They may seem daunting, but they are comprehensive and serve as great guides.

A Data Standards Manual should live alongside your Branding Guide.  It’s a definitive statement about who you are as an organization and what you value – who you want to contact and how you want to contact them.

Your data is your single greatest resource and asset.  And it needs rules and structure if you want it to behave.

But my data is already a wreck!

That whole “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” thing?  Yeah, it’s hooey.


You absolutely can.  And you can absolutely clean a messy database.

Slowly, delicately, carefully, one step at a time.  But so worth it in the long run.

Dogs, especially Labrador Retrievers, are eager to please.  They spend their lives basically trying to figure out what we want from them.  They “misbehave” because we haven’t given them the rules.  We haven’t laid out the expectations.

Data is exactly the same way.  Set the expectations and LIVE by them.  The data will follow along.  And you’ll both be happier for it.


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  1. […] time we talked about data needing rules and structure. Now we talk about data needing love and attention.  Just like a Labrador puppy in […]

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