5 Tips For A Successful CRM Migration of Your Nonprofit Data

The Keela Team • May 28, 2020

What is the big deal about data? Or, we should specify, clean data, that makes all CRM software companies weep tears of joy and praise the ground your nonprofit walks on when you import a sparkling clean record. Is pre-cleaned data such a mythical unicorn?

In fact, there are consultants who make bucket loads of money per year just by cleaning and compiling some poor schmucks spreadsheets that date back to the dawning of the internet. 

Why? Because they understand that a clean dataset acts as a golden express ticket to succeeding in the diverse. 

A Great CRM Experience Starts With Great Nonprofit Data 

A CRM is an investment of both your time and money, but the payoff is an easily accessible digital spreadsheet that allows you to increase your efficiency, reduce your administrative burden, and ultimately have more impact in your cause area.

But it will only be as good as the data you feed it. 

Think of data as the food your CRM and its tools need to function. You need to give it good nutrition to be healthy, and you especially don’t want it to develop unhealthy eating habits either.

At Keela, we use artificial intelligence tools to help aid your organization’s fundraising efforts. And while that’s pretty cool, you do have to feed them a high protein, low sugar diet in order to perform optimally. 

If you’ve only got a little bit of protein (good data) coming into the system, it’ll affect the quality of the recommendations as it won’t have as many examples to draw from. If you’re feeding it a lot of junk food (missing information, mistyped dates like 2091 VS 2019, etc) then the algorithm will learn from this information and in turn, affect your future fundraising predictions. 

So while a high protein, low sugar diet may take a lot of effort, it’s important to start your CRM journey with a clean, healthy dataset in order to maximize your return. 

Here are some best practices to clean your nonprofit data before you import it into a CRM.

1) Gather Your Data

If you’ve been in a nonprofit organization for a long time, chances are you have a lot of contact history. This could be spread out over multiple sources: Spreadsheets, phone records, email contacts, you name it. 

Take this opportunity to bring it all under one roof. Consolidate everything into one giant mess of a spreadsheet (don’t worry, we can fix it). 

Not only is it good to have everything in one place, but it also makes cleaning it up a lot easier than jumping in between different formats. Once it’s all together, make a copy. Save it. Store it in the cloud. This is vital and if anything goes wrong with technology (because that never happens), you will thank yourself later. 

In fact, after every step in this process, it’s a good idea to save a copy of your work.

2) Audit Your Content

This is a great time to review all of your contact information (yay…) and determine what exactly is going to make the cut for your CRM. Call it a spring clean of your database.

Purge Unresponsive Contacts

Before you jump into cross-referencing your contacts’ birthdays and changes to marital status, pause for a moment. Do you really need this person? 

A golden rule for CRM imports is that less is more. 

For one thing, it’s time-consuming to format each and every contact – especially if they haven’t been active with your organization for a long time. More importantly, most CRMs have pricing structures that are based on how many contacts you have. The more contacts, the more money you spend. 

While you shouldn’t get rid of donors who may just need a nudge to remind them you exist, the supporters who donated once in 2004 and never spoke to you again can probably stay buried in your Hotmail contact list. 

If you’re unsure, consult your team and come up with a framework on when a contact is considered unengaged.

Some criteria to consider:

  • If there’s no email address – delete them
  • If there’s no mailing address or phone number – delete them
  • If they have never contributed to your organization – delete them

Check for Duplicates

Duplicates are the most common culprit for bad nonprofit data. If there are two contact records for the same person, which one is up to date? Which one is getting your email campaigns

They might not seem like a big deal, but duplicate data can very quickly spiral out of control if multiple team members are using the system – one donation logged here, the other logged there, and your financial data quickly becomes unreliable.

More importantly, you are paying for this person twice. 

So as you ready your data for import, make sure de-duplication is part of your process. At Keela, we use contact mergers to do this for you. Otherwise, here’s how to do it manually.

It’s a good idea to check for duplicates regularly, even after you’ve migrated your data. 

Verify What Data is Relevant to Your Nonprofit Organization

If you’ve been compiling data for years, guaranteed there are tidbits of information that are no longer useful for you to keep track of. Like Jane’s preferred sock size from that one campaign of yesteryear. Save yourself the headache and get rid of it. It will declutter your database and make navigating your CRM so much easier. 

You’re only going to want to import essential information. Things like names, email addresses, current mailing addresses, salutations, organization associations, etc. This is information that will be crucial to your future contact management. 

3) Formatting Your Data (The Fun Part)

Poor formatting can lead to failed imports, conflicting information, and a heck of a lot of time spent sorting out the mess. 

Depending on which CRM you choose, there will be specific data formatting requirements. Make sure you double-check what those are before you start. If you’re using Keela, we’ve got a nifty Help Center article that explains how your data should look before importing.

Regardless of which CRM you choose, there are some standardized best practices to keep in mind. 

  • Check that each of your columns has the right data: So if you’re tracking birthdays, there shouldn’t be any letters in this numeric field. Each column header should have the exact same title, and the data below needs to be in the exact same format – whether it’s percentages, numbers, etc. 
  • Make sure it’s formatted the same: You wouldn’t believe how many ways you could write May 8, 2020. You could use slashes, dashes, letters, or dots. The trick is, to find which one works best for you and your CRM requirements and stick to it! Then check, is your spreadsheet in DD/MM/YYYY or MM/DD/YYYY format? You could be unwittingly inputting the wrong data. 
  • Separate first and last names: One column should be reserved for the first and another for the last. If you have 5,000 contacts all in one column, don’t panic. I can feel your anxiety as you calculate how much time that will take. Excel has a formula that will separate these for you into two different columns. You’re welcome. 
  • Make sure nothing is in all caps: “Hi AMANDA, do you want to donate to our latest community initiative?” probably isn’t going to fly well. You don’t want your donors to think you’re shouting at them through the computer. 
  • Remove foreign characters: At Keela, we love a bit of spice, but unfortunately, computers don’t, and foreign characters won’t import correctly. Sorry Elon Musk, Æ A-12 is not a CRM-friendly name. 

Tags, Donation Labels, Custom Fields – Oh my!

Oh my is right, since it’s time to get all of the nitty-gritty details in order.

By now we know what our standardized fields are (Name, Date of Birth, Address, Organization, etc), but what about all of the other juicy nonprofit data you’ve been harvesting? Who are your major donorsLYBUNTs, or recurring? This is critical information your organization needs to thrive, right?

Don’t worry, there’s a label for that.

Labels are handy bits of extra information used to better manage the contacts in your database. You’ll use them to organize your information as well as easily identify the relationships you’ve built with your supporters. 

When you’re cleaning your spreadsheet, enter the name of your label in a new column and add the values for that field in the rows below. Specific labels can be added to your contacts, and associations to your donations, revenues, and volunteer records.

Some examples of the many things you can add as a label in Keela are:

  • Campaigns: Anything from your organization’s fundraising events, volunteering events, or programs can be managed with an association field. This lets you know which supporters interacted with specific campaigns and will give our campaign recommendations tool the protein it needs to be able to better recommend new campaigns.
  • Impact Areas: What part of your organization did a volunteer contribute their time to? Did they help out with a specific weekly task that you run? Did anyone donate to a specific part of your organization? Yeah, you can create association fields for these too.
  • Tags: This is for your contact data only. Create a grouping of contacts who have something in common – so location, major donations, alliances, etc. 
  • Custom Fields: For anything else in your contact data that you would like to store. 
Multiple SelectA list where you can choose multiple optionsSeparate multiple options with a “;”Red; Orange; Yellow
Single SelectA list where you can choose one optionEnter only one option per rowRed
NumberAny number123456
Date & TimeA specific date (with or without time)Standard date formats will be accepted (e.g. 01/31/1959, 1959-01-31, 31-Jan-1959)2018-12-31 12:30:00 GMT+0900
Yes/NoA Yes or No questionYes/No, Y/N, 1/0Yes
TextAn open text fieldAny dataHello, here is some text!

At the end of the day, you know which information is most important to your organization. You can go as hard or as soft on the labels as you want, it’s all dependent on what types of things you’re planning to track in your CRM. 

If formatting data for endless hours really doesn’t float your boat, hey I get it. That’s why consultants are in such high demand. Keela offers professional services that will do 90% of these steps for you so you can focus on your impact, and not worry about creating the right impact tags. 

4) Ready to Import? Time for a Double-Check

This should be an obvious step, but after spending hours and hours cleaning an excel spreadsheet, I’m pretty sure you’re never going to want to look at it again. But you have to. At least one more time. 

You’d be surprised at how many minor things slip through the cracks when you’re Marie Kondo-ing. In fact, now that we’re here, it’s probably a good time to check for duplicates again. 

Once everything has been cleaned, reviewed, and saved, it’s time to import! ???? 

Download your spreadsheet as a CSV file. Not a TSV or XLS, PDF, or JPG, A CSV! Comma Separated Value sheets are an import’s bread and butter and you can use them with any CSV importer. Now wipe the sweat from your brow and lean in to get some much-needed support. 

Any CRM worth their chops has a stellar success team. (Have you met ours?)

Keela Customer Success Team

5) Once It’s Uploaded

Despite the most careful scrutiny, something will always slip through the cracks or end up in a wonky format. 

So after you’ve migrated your nonprofit data, it’s time for a final purge of anything that’s old, irrelevant or wrong. Take the time to fix even the smallest of inconsistencies and gaps in your data record and you’ll get off on the right foot with your CRM journey. 

In fact, now is the perfect time to refine your data collection process and make sure everyone at your organization knows what’s up. Create a standard procedure on how best to collect, store, and use your donor data. That way all of your hard work isn’t undone by data decay

Plus, the better data collection you do, the less administrative time you spend cleaning it, and the more time you have to focus on what matters: Your mission. 

Suggested Maintenance for a Healthy Nonprofit Database

There’s no point in spending all these hours creating a squeaky-clean dataset if you’re not going to maintain it. Remember my food analogy at the beginning? Crash diets are bad for your CRM too. You need to feed it a sustained, well-rounded diet of delicious data in order to harness its full potential. 

Decide with your team what’s attainable, but we suggest a clean-up of duplicates, as well as a review of new contacts once a quarter. Then, once a year, do a more thorough review and update donor tags depending on whether they’ve lapsed, change their status, or perhaps become deceased. That way it doesn’t feel like you’re pushing a boulder up a mountain (again) in order to have clean nonprofit data.


A CRM helps you do more with less. If you continue to feed it clean, nutritious data, you’ll maximize your investment as well as build stronger, more lasting relationships with your donors (who are the real people behind your spreadsheet) that will carry your organization into the future. 

Peek inside Keela

Use Keela Starter to take advantage of our core features!