The ABCs of Campaign Data Management

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The ABCs of Campaign Data Management

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How to create a data driven political campaign


List of votes for President and Vice President of the United States, 02/08/1837It almost always starts the same way: a campaign kicks off with a small list of potential donors and volunteers listed in a manageable Excel file. Within what feels like hours you are sitting upon piles of cards filled out by new volunteers, event registration lists, spreadsheets of processed online donations, prospecting lists borrowed from other campaigns, voter lists, piles of checks that need to be recorded, phone banking lists, etc, etc, etc.

Fortunately it has never been easier to collect data but… what you get out of your data is only as good as what you put into your data. This is why you have to think about good data hygiene processes and habits.

How do you efficiently manage all 60, as far as you know there are only 60, lists that are squirreled away throughout your organization all at once? It doesn’t take much for a campaign’s data file to get completely out of hand.  Every campaign starts out having a simple process for storing data, but when multiple people start tracking and updating the data, eventually it becomes an overwhelming mess to fix.

Why are maintaining good campaign data hygiene practices so critical? Clean, uniform, normalized “people” data:

  • Allow generating targeted prospecting, contact and walk lists easy.
  • Allow choosing the right communications channel to contact your targeted supporters and prospects (phone, email, mail, text, social, etc.) to optimize your response yield.
  • Make A/B testing far easier for mail, email & landing pages.
  • Reduce direct marketing costs because you are not wasting resources on the wrong communication channels or sending to duplicate records. The savings on printing alone could be huge!


Lets get started:

STEP 1 – Choose your data platform. Excel is fine if it is just you and the candidate entering and pulling data but be forewarned. As soon as you start adding additional staff and collecting mass data from multiple sources, the quality of your data will quickly evolve into a nightmare. You need to select a campaign database now that will allow you to easily:

  • Import data in multiple formats (CSVs, Excel, flat files, etc).
  • Automatically (and securely) accept data from your website, your mail house, your caging process, your events, your widgets, APIs, and file transfer processes.
  • Export data in a form that you can use for fundraising calls, blue books, mail drops, email blasts, etc.
  • Allow staff to access the data from anywhere so they don’t create their own rogue spreadsheets on their own laptops that you don’t even know about.
  • Control who sees what data. For instance, you don’t want your interns having access to your high-dollar donor lists.

For Republican campaigns and committees, Crimson has become the standard data platform and managed 2 out of 3 of all fundraising dollars in the 2012 cycle.

STEP 2 – Now it is time to track down and gather all your spreadsheets. Standardize the columns and field names so all the files can be combined into a single spreadsheet.  This is also a great time to weed out all the useless data that often accrues. I recently saw a file that still had car phone listed as a phone number field.  You will undoubtedly have data no one needs any longer.  Do you really need to track someone’s fax number? You are much better off getting a Twitter handle or Facebook name.

STEP 3 – The third step is to conduct a merge purge on your file.  Merge purge is the process of removing duplicate records and removing bad records. This will take all of the files that your campaign has gathered and put them in one file with a standard output.  This output will make creating targeted mailings a breeze while eliminating duplicate records within your file.  Depending on your file size, this process can be done manually or you can outsource it. Our data team provides this service to lots of organizations. Remember that computers can automate much of the merge purge process, but often it takes a human to recognize which of 2 records is the correct record.

STEP 4 – You are on the home stretch. The last step is to clean up or “scrub” your data.  The best practice for this is:

  • Run your data through CASS processing.  This will assign the zip plus 4 and standardize the addresses, which provides a better match rate in your dedupe.  CASS stands for the “Coding Accuracy Support System” which the USPS uses to correct and matches street addresses. Again, this is a service that we can help you with. We can run this process on your Crimson data as frequently as you may require.
  • Check your data against the USPS National Change of Address file (NCOA), in order to make sure you have the most recent and accurate address. The current USPS requirement is that an NCOA has been performed within 95 days of mailing, in order to qualify for a bulk rate discount.   Again, we can run your Crimson data against the NCOA file should you need help with this process.

These steps are just the beginning of what you can do with your data.  Now that your data is normalized and scrubbed, you can easily enhance your files by appending your data to outside data to add almost an unlimited number of personal data points. Most commonly, our clients ask us to help them append phone numbers, email addresses, estimated net worth, voting history, age, and marital status, just to name a few.  This can save your campaign a lot of money by insuring that you are targeting the right people with the right message.

With everything that is available to campaigns, there is really no excuse to have messy data.  A good data file can be a campaign’s strongest asset.  It will allow you raise more money and get the best results for your GOTV efforts.