By Kelly Braniff and Matt Karst

Data management can seem like an overwhelming function of daily business. Forming a data management plan takes time, planning, and a keen understanding of your data-driven goals. The key to successful data management is NEVER the purchase of slick new software or the latest new technology. The best way to approach this is with a focus on collection, organization, security, and analytics. Efficiently storing and managing data can be critical to the success of your organization.

Kelly Braniff

Strategy– Before you begin, you will need to have fundamental strategic conversations about your organization’s mission, vision, processes, and future direction. You will need answers to questions about the data you want to collect, where you want to store it, how it will be organized, and how the data will be protected. This planning process takes time. A lot of deliberation will go into answering these questions and everyone on the team needs to be on the same page. This planning stage can be challenging to get started as there is a potentially overwhelmingly large amounts of details to sort out. Here are several questions your organization can ask to trigger discussions.

Collecting data:

  1. What other information is needed for your work – Do you need mailing addresses, work information, phone numbers, emergency contacts, birthdates?
  2. Are you starting with information within a current database?
  3. Do you trust the data?
  4. Does the current database need to be updated?
  5. What are you currently collecting vs. what do you need to collect for strategic growth?
  6. Do you have data in multiple software systems, spreadsheets, or departments?
  7. Do the systems currently “talk” to each other?
  8. How can you make the data consistent across systems?
  9. What are you collecting and what do you already have?

Organizing data:

  1. What are your largest categories of data? What are the subcategories.  You will need to be purposeful in subdividing the data to ensure nesting of groups.
  2. Who will be using the data?
  3. Do they need access to all the data?
  4. Should they view or edit data?
  5. How do you keep data that is consistent, accurate, and easy to update?
  6. How will you be using or accessing the data?

Securing data:

  1. Where will your database be housed?
  2. Do you have a plan for backing up your information?
  3. How will you keep your data secure from cyber attacks or leaks?
  4. Will you ask clients/members about their communication preferences or allow them to opt out of communications? 
  5. How will you ensure GDPR compliance for your international members?
  6. Who will have access to the administrative functions of the data?


  1. What type of unique identifier will you use to ensure data accuracy?
  2. How will you minimize the option for multiple records for the same data?
  3. What information will you require all members/clients to complete before submitting?
  4. What information will be field entry and what information can be standardized with drop down menus?

Management: Once you begin to organize your data, begin the process of ensuring its maintenance over time. The first step to this is finding who within your organization is responsible for managing the database. This role usually goes to someone with a bigger picture of the strategic goals of the database and someone with experience managing data. The first step that the data manager should take is listing all of the old data in the system that needs to be standardized to the new system. This is a bit of a tedious process, but one that is absolutely necessary.

At this stage another essential task is knowing how data will be shared, who can see it and who can change it. Remember, your clients have entrusted you with their data and will need to be able to see it whenever they request to. Data management needs a high level of both security and accessibility.

Last but not least, on-going data management requires formal policy, procedures, and processes. Be sure to make time to document these early on in your data management overhaul.  They may appear at first glance to be time-consuming, but you will spend triple the amount of time cleaning up and fixing your database without the policy and procedures outlined from the beginning.

After that is the fun part, analyzing the data! Your analysis will include finding patterns and forecasting trends, among other things. This is when a strategy comes to life with how you will use the data for your benefit. The culmination of all that goes into the strategy and all that goes into ensuring proper data management comes down to how data is analyzed. Now, with an understanding of data management and a roster of questions to start a dialogue, it’s off to the races to ensure your organization’s data is managed efficiently and effectively.