Children With Cancer – Data Cleansing

 

When it comes to fundraising, it’s the sexy stuff that gets the headlines. Children in Need launching a new online shop, new brand messaging for the NSPCC, Tesco’s sponsorship of Diabetes UK, ALS trying to trademark the Ice Bucket Challenge and now Sainsbury’s Christmas tie up with the Royal British Legion have all been stories in the news over recent months. However, as exciting as these are, it’s often the backroom activities that no one talks about that can have the greatest impact on a charity’s fundraising performance, especially for the long term.

This is something that Children With Cancer (CWC), the UK’s leading children’s charity dedicated to fighting childhood cancers, understands well. Whilst always looking out for new techniques and initiatives that they can test, they have found that it is by going back to basics that they have managed to create one of the biggest impacts on Return on Investment. Their secret? Data cleansing. No, it may not be conventionally sexy but, if it saves them thousands of pounds, then maybe data cleansing can take on a whole new allure of its own.

 

Data issues take their toll on direct marketing effectiveness

So what do they do? As background, CWC spend a significant proportion of their marketing budget on direct mail, with several major donation and raffle ticket campaigns going out across the year. These are sent to the charity’s 400,000 strong committed donor database, as well as to between 2-3 million cold records which they buy from list brokers for each campaign – typically people who say they donate to cancer charities or who, through profiling, look like a CWC donor.

They have been carrying out this activity successfully for 10 years but had noticed that the number of mailing packs being returned to them was increasing. These returns, or ‘gone-aways’, tended to be a mixture of addresses that were incorrect, duplicates, out-of-date due to people moving home or, worse, deceased records.

Alisa O’Malley, Direct Marketing Manager at CWC, explains, “We had been using a number of different data cleaning companies but were still seeing too many mailing packs coming back to us. It’s essential that, as a charity, we spend our budget as effectively as possible so this level of wastage was unacceptable. And it’s not just about the money; being seen to be wasteful can create bad PR, while the issues around mailing deceased records are clearly far worse with the potential to be hugely damaging to our brand.”

CWC therefore turned to independent data bureau CCR for help in improving the quality of their mailing data, reducing costs and wastage, improving response rates and ultimately protecting their brand.

 

A data audit identified areas for concern and laid the way for optimised data cleansing

The answer to the challenge was to use ADAM, CCR’s new data processing platform which is arguably the most advanced of its kind in the UK. This was built incorporating third party suppression data that was tested and validated as the most accurate on the market. It includes both Equifax and Experian new address data (ADAM is the only data processing system to include both) along with Royal Mail mover data, deceased data and subscribers to the Direct Marketing Association’s preference files who have requested not to be contacted by companies through specified channels amongst others. All of these data sets are updated bi-monthly to optimise accuracy. Added to this is CCR’s own bespoke data and processing technology which has been developed to create superior accuracy and speed in data matching and cleansing.

CCR initially carried out a data audit on CWC’s data – including CWC’s own database plus bought in mailing data. This created an in-depth view of the data and identified areas for concern, including number of duplicates at different levels of address (surname and first name, surname and initial etc), deceased individuals, gone-away records, change of addresses, incorrect postcodes etc? Insight from the audit was then used to create a bespoke data cleansing process which took into account CWC’s own unique data needs, issues and opportunities.

For instance, improving data cleansing doesn’t necessarily mean suppressing more data – it’s also possible to ‘over suppress’ data which can lead to CWC not mailing perfectly good addresses that it has paid for because matching levels have not been created properly. CCR now carries out a data audit prior to each campaign to ensure data cleansing is optimised for its own unique data sets and objectives.

CCR also created a predefined complex file structure to ensure CWC could import its data easily into, and export from, ADAM effectively and easily – whilst also ensuring that addresses are formatted according to the Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File (PAF) this ensures optimum discounts on postage.

CWC can now input their data into ADAM themselves – but the process is overseen by CCR. Chris Turner, Director of Business Development at CCR explains, “Our technology uses complex algorithms to clean the data, but nothing beats human quality control to spot problems and check for abnormalities.”

 

Improvements in data cleansing is an ongoing process

Since it has used ADAM for data cleaning, CWC and CCR have continually refined the process for each campaign, testing elements such as deduplication hierarchies and using new suppression data, while incorporating other factors such as which data sources create most complaints. Flags are used on every data record so that the source of bad data can be tracked and handled accordingly. These are also retained for future use, can we find a new address in 6 months for a previously flagged goneaway? To best manage data quality issues, data has been segmented so that data cleansing can be optimised according to specific areas of concern within each data segment. This ensures the right data is managed in the right way.

 

Data cleansing costs significantly outweighed by cost benefits

Since using ADAMCWC has seen ROI increase and its gone-away rates decrease. As an example, for CWC’s two most recent direct mail campaigns, it supplied over 1.7 million records to CCR. ADAM was used to process the data and this identified 127,500 records that were incorrect or shouldn’t be mailed. ADAM also ‘rescued’ 68,000 addresses by ‘relocating’ people who had moved to their new address. This enabled CWC to save £48,000 that would otherwise have been wasted on incorrectly addressed mail – and that’s just across two campaigns! This is money that CWC has ploughed back into its precious marketing budget.

O’Malley adds, “We see data cleaning costs as an investment. Not only have we increased our response rates and reduced our costs since using ADAM, we have seen a distinct decrease in the number of complaints we receive for badly addressed mailings. This is important for protecting our brand, plus we have improved our environmental credentials too.”

Turner concludes, “Collectively, UK charities spend millions of pounds on creating beautiful direct marketing campaigns – but what’s the point if these end up being sent to the wrong person? Every year over six million people move home, there are over 600,000 bereavements and the Royal Mail changes over 500,000 addresses so it is a perpetual issue. Data cleaning needs to be at the top of charity marketers’ agenda – it’s about getting the fundamentals right. Great creativity is then the icing on the cake.”