The golden rule of data science holds true: junk in, junk out–aka, there will be no successful communications campaign without cleaning your mailing list. Whether you are a national nonprofit or an all-volunteer organization or anything in between, there are multiple reasons why cleaning your contact database isn’t an optional task. Luckily, CRM automation makes this easy to achieve. 

But first, some quick reminders of why you really can’t continue to put this off:

  • A mailing list polluted with recipients who don’t actually engage with your emails hurts your sender reputation. This increases the likelihood that email providers will filter out your future emails. Even the 15% of recipients who do open your emails will start losing them to the spam folder if your sender reputation goes below a provider’s threshold.
  • Storing contacts gets expensive–remember the old adage, “there’s no such thing as free”? Even if you’re using a CRM or  nonprofit email software that doesn’t charge by number of contacts, you need to consider the energy and time consumed whenever you try to manipulate a behemoth amount of data. Storing contact information beyond its usefulness is also a serious violation of data privacy laws
  • With the latest round of changes to Apple’s privacy policy in Fall 2021, you’re no longer able to know whether an iOS or Mac user opens an email. It’s gotten a lot tougher to know whether your mailing list is engaged, but the solution lies in better segmentation. When you can identify which of your contacts are active in other ways, such as when they last updated their information or participated in a campaign, then you don’t need to rely on open rates to keep your email list healthy. You can even create successful Facebook campaigns post iOS14

1. List Management: Where do I even begin?

Start by identifying your current clients, or in the case of nonprofits, active donors. Depending on your business model, you may need to also identify contacts who are members of the same household or employees of the same organization. In our CRM (Hubspot), we have automation that copies a contact’s Lifecycle stage (i.e. client status) to their company and from one contact to all other contacts with the same unique mailing address. If you want the information for the whole group to update whenever one contact’s status changes, set your automation (known as Workflows in Hubspot) to trigger whenever a property “is known.” Keep in mind that for Hubspot’s Lifecycle property the funnel only moves in one direction, from Lead to Evangelist, but you can downgrade contacts by adding an automation step to clear the Lifecycle property.

Beyond the Lifecycle, you can also copy over demographic information, like an organization’s size, industry, and budget, or activity information, such as the date of the last order placed. In Hubspot you can copy this information from a Contact Record to a Company Record in order to store it long term while you cycle unengaged contacts off your mailing list. It’s also much easier to gather actionable data for 5k companies than for 20k contacts. Eventually you’ll also want to set criteria and automation to mark your VIP clients or supporters with the Evangelist lifecycle, but you can worry about that after you’ve done an initial database clean up. 

2. Low-hanging fruit: Employees and Partners

Use the same technique as above to identify all your employees, as well as employees of your partner organizations.

3. Now for everyone else

Forms are your best tool for segmenting your contacts as you can use them to distinguish donors, volunteers, clients, staff, and job applicants from other supporters. Don’t forget to work retroactively by using automation to assign the correct Lifecycle stage to all contacts who ever filled out one of your forms. Hubspot has done a great deal of the heavy lifting for you by making it possible to select a contact’s Lifecycle stage based on the form they fill out while keeping this field invisible from the user’s side. This is where you can differentiate between followers (Subscribers), your target audience (Marketing Qualified Leads), and prospectives (Sales Qualified Leads). 

If many of your contacts pre-date website forms, you can still use automation to speed up the process of assigning Lifecycles to contacts. Use criteria such as past activity or source information. 

Hubspot’s automation around Deals also helps with identifying contacts. We have separate Deal Pipelines for sales, but also for job applicants and project management as a way to keep our databases aligned. Automation dictates their “Opportunity” lifecycle, leaving “Leads” as the only category of contacts unaccounted for.

“Leads” is Hubspot’s catchall Lifecycle, meaning any contacts you import will automatically receive this status. You might want to bulk edit these contacts to subscriber status and then begin monitoring where new contacts marked as Leads come from, so that you can create automation to reassign them a more accurate Lifecycle. For example, we have automation that recognizes when a Contact Owner forgets to update information like company and Lifecycle after importing a contact and creates a task to remind them to do so. We also have automation that reminds our team members, should they forget, to associate a Company to each Deal and Ticket or how to format a field like Email Domain correctly.

4. Your contacts must also cycle out

Data privacy laws require you to have legitimate interest in your contacts’ information, so you really need a reason to keep every contact you store and otherwise default to properly destroying that contact’s information. Legitimate reasons include subscribers, people actively seeking information about your services, current customers, and past customers to the extent advised by your accountant or legal counsel. Take a moment now to list the criteria that make someone unqualified for your contact database, beginning with they’ve unsubscribed or their email address bounces. 

Once you’ve outlined your criteria, create automation that begins to separate contacts that are ready to be deleted from ones for whom you have legitimate reasons to keep information. Your deletion automation might include a task or notification sent to the Contact Owner letting them know that a contact is scheduled for deletion, and including all the details necessary for that team member to make a snap decision as to whether they need to act to save the contact. 

The last step of your automation should be to add the expired contacts to a list for deletion. Then set a reminder to yourself, perhaps quarterly, to delete contacts on this list. Hubspot offers us the additional reassurance that if we make a mistake, we still have 90 days to recover the contact before they are gone for good. 

The second bit of Hubspot brilliance is their “Unengaged” List, which you can build on your own in other CRMs by filtering for contacts who haven’t clicked through the last 16 marketing emails. This dynamic list culls contacts who are hurting your sender reputation because they aren’t engaged with your emails. These folks should be targeted for re-engagement campaigns, and if those aren’t successful, then they can be sent a sunsetting email before being added to your deletion list.

Bonus: Other Lists to Help You Keep a Tidy CRM

You’ve identified the purpose for each contact in your database. You’ve also created an exit strategy for all of them. Now it’s time to round out your efforts by doing some data deep-diving. Start playing with your CRM’s filter and list options to see if you can dig up any mysterious or inactive contacts. Here are a few lists we’ve used to help us identify oversights in our contact management: 

  • Overlooked contacts — Create a list of contacts who are not receiving communications from you by filtering for subscription opt-ins and/or membership on the lists you regularly use to send communications. Anyone appearing on this list should be flowing into your re-engagement automation, and if they aren’t re-engaged, out they go.  
  • Contacts outside your area of service — Identify contacts who are outside your service area by filtering first for IP time zone is “known” and then for IP time zone “does not contain [your service areas, ie: USA or North America].” You can choose whether you want to keep a subsection of these contacts who are engaged followers or cycle out all who are outside your service area. 

Hopefully we’ve given you not just the tools, but also the inspiration, to finally clean up your organization’s contact ecosystem. If you need help, or just a few words of support, feel free to add your comment here or to contact us directly.   

Other articles picked for you