To take advantage of spring and summer weather, get your students and supporters outside with these three outdoor school fundraisers.

3 School Fundraisers that Get Your Students Outside

By the end of the school year, it’s likely that students will start to feel burned out by school work and classes, ready to get outside for summer vacation. Their parents might even be planning fun family trips and outings so they can soak up the sun. However, for many student organizations and sports teams, work doesn’t end when classes do. 

If you are a football coach or parent to a player, for example, you know that summer is when the team buckles down to train for the next fall season. But if you’re relying on last season’s funds, it can be difficult to cover the expenses your team incurs during this time (e.g., paying for new uniforms, equipment, and food for players). This year, why not be prepared for these costs by choosing an engaging fundraising idea to kick off the summer season?

In this guide, we’ll explore a few important best practices for holding fundraising outdoors, along with some fun ideas to try out:

  • What are some best practices for outdoor fundraisers?
  • 3 Outdoor Fundraisers for School Groups

There are some unique elements of outdoor fundraisers to consider before starting your campaign. Factors like weather can impact how you plan the event as well as the fundraising methods you choose. Let’s get started by exploring some best practices for addressing these factors.

What are some best practices for outdoor fundraisers?

It’s essential to remember that when you plan an outdoor event, you are surrendering control of certain elements (like the temperature). While a sunny, clear day with a light breeze would be best on these occasions, there’s a chance your fundraiser might be met with exceptionally hot, windy, or rainy conditions. 

To ensure your event is a success no matter what happens outside, here are some things to consider when planning:

  • Keep the weather and venue in mind. Obviously, your team should avoid scheduling the event on days that are likely to be extremely hot or prone to storms. However, weather is not always predictable, especially during warmer months. In the event that temperatures exceed safe limits or there is rain expected, be prepared with an alternative plan. Consider having tents, a secondary location, or a backup date ready in the event of rain.
  • Use a fundraising platform. When your team uses a fundraising platform, supporters can donate online before the event so they don’t need to wait in registration lines at the fundraiser. Additionally, your team won’t need to worry about collecting cash or checks during the event. This adds a layer of financial security as there is no risk of a donation blowing away or getting rained on.
  • Prioritize safety. When events take place outdoors, there are more variable factors at play to impact safety–particularly heat. If you are holding a physically demanding event like a sports tournament or race, make sure to have plenty of water, snacks, and shade available. If food will be present, make sure to adhere to proper food safety procedures during preparation and storage.

In addition to these special considerations, make sure you follow traditional fundraising best practices as well. To generate excitement and attract attendees, marketing the fundraiser ahead of time. And as always, be sure to thank and recognize your donors and volunteers with thank-you cards or emails.

3 Outdoor Fundraisers for School Groups

While there is a time and place for more serious fundraising events like galas, feel free to get creative with these outdoor events. Choose a fundraising idea that your team will love and that your community will want to engage with. Keep in mind that as a school-affiliated organization, parents will make up the largest portion of your volunteer base. So, avoid choosing fundraisers that will require unreasonable amounts of time and effort.

1. Charity Race

A charity race, 5K, or marathon is one of the most traditional, classic outdoor fundraisers. Don’t shy away from these tried-and-true fundraisers–just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it isn’t engaging and effective.  

The best part about holding a charity race is that they can easily be adapted to various age groups and fitness levels. Here are three different types of races your team can organize to appeal to distinct audiences:

  • Walk-a-thon. A walk-a-thon is similar to a traditional 5K, but instead of running, participants are encouraged to walk. Because it is stroller-friendly, this idea is great for younger children and families. To get the whole family involved, encourage them to bring leashed pets along, too.
  • Fun run. Double the Donation defines a fun run fundraiser as “a type of peer-to-peer fundraiser in which participants sign up to run, collect pledges, and earn donations for each mile (or other specified unit of distance) they run.” Your team will need to choose a route, date, and time as well as a fun theme. For example, you might choose an 80s theme and encourage runners to dress up in athletic attire inspired by the decade.
  • 10K or half marathon. A longer, more intense race is best for experienced runners and older students (i.e., those in high school). To get more community involvement in your race, make sure to advertise it using posters or flyers inside local business establishments. Additionally, your team could partner with nonprofits in your area to leverage both supporter bases. 

There are no hard and fast rules around who can participate in which type of race. For example,  your high school cheerleading squad might prefer a walk-a-thon to a 10K. The most important thing to consider is whether your team members and supporters would enjoy and engage with the fundraiser.

2. Picnic or Barbecue 

When you imagine the perfect summer evening, what comes to mind? For many, it’s backyard barbecues, ice cream, and lemonade. Your team can take advantage of the nostalgia and comfort of a picnic or barbecue for its next fundraiser.

When planning one of these events, follow these steps:

  1. Choose a date, time, and venue (e.g., a local park, picnic pavilion, or school playground).
  2. Determine how you will fundraise, either by charging for entry or per food item.
  3. Decide whether your team will host a potluck-style or catered event.
  4. Start marketing your event using digital channels as well as printed promotional materials like flyers.
  5. Purchase plenty of supplies, like plates, cutlery, cups, tablecloths, blankets, and, of course, food.
  6. Set up enough blankets and tables for all of your guests.
  7. Host the event and have fun!

If your team decides to prepare food onsite or in advance, be sure to strictly follow all food safety guidelines. Make sure to have coolers and ice available to keep food at the proper temperatures, and ensure all foods are cooked thoroughly to keep your guests safe.

3. Sports-Themed Fundraisers

If your group is a sports team, you already have a built-in, cohesive theme to follow for your fundraisers. Your supporter base will already be familiar with the sport, and they’ve shown that they are interested in supporting your team financially by purchasing merchandise or tickets to games.

Let’s say you coach a high school soccer team. 99Pledges’ guide to soccer fundraising ideas recommends organizing soccer lessons that benefit the team. So, your team puts together a weeklong camp at which younger players can pay to get soccer lessons from the older high school players.

There are many other ways to incorporate the sports theme into your fundraiser, even if you don’t want to center the entire event around your sport. For example, if you hold an outdoor bake sale in tandem with a summer carnival, you could sell soccer-themed cookies and other treats. Your team’s sport can play as big or small a role in the fundraiser as you like, but it can be a helpful reminder to show what donors are supporting.

While choosing to hold your fundraiser outside can introduce new challenges, it will make for an engaging, unique experience that your supporters will remember for years to come. No matter which event you choose, remember to always have a backup plan, whether that’s a secondary location or an alternative date. And finally, make sure that your participants, donors, and volunteers know you appreciate them and their hard work.

This guide will help you launch your donor retention efforts.

Donor Retention Ideas and Best Practices for Nonprofits

As a nonprofit professional, you understand the power of cultivating strong relationships with donors. Their passion and generosity make your mission come to life.

That being said, it takes significant effort to preserve these connections over time and secure consistent fundraising revenue. Having a robust donor retention strategy in place will help you deepen your donor relationships and achieve sustainable growth. In this guide, we’ll discuss these fundamental aspects of donor retention:

By following these tips and tricks, you’ll be equipped to retain more donors while expending less effort and money on your strategies. Let’s begin!

Learn more about donor retention and dozens of other pressing topics through NXUnite panels.

Donor Retention FAQs

Whether you’re a new nonprofit founder or a seasoned professional, you might have some questions about donor retention fundamentals. Let’s get on the same page by answering these frequently asked questions.

What is donor retention?

Donor retention is the process of encouraging donors to continue giving to your nonprofit over time. This involves deepening your personal connections with donors and demonstrating their gifts’ impacts on your beneficiaries and the greater community. 

Why is donor retention important?

Compared to donor acquisition (the process of identifying new donor prospects and convincing them to donate for the first time), donor retention is more:

This Venn diagram depicts the relationship between donor retention and donor acquisition, which highlights the importance of donor retention.
  • Cost-effective: It’s more affordable and efficient to keep existing donors than it is to attract new ones. After all, donor acquisition requires researching prospects, launching extensive marketing pushes, and building a case for support. Existing donors already know your nonprofit’s mission and have already provided you with their contact information, negating additional research and outreach.
  • Sustainable: Retained donors provide a reliable and predictable source of income, which is better for the long-term financial health of your nonprofit. 
  • Personal: While donor acquisition requires building relationships from the ground up, effective retention relies on deepening existing donor relationships, which takes less time.

While both donor acquisition and retention are important to fundraising success, retention is a more feasible and efficient approach to maximize donations and increase supporter loyalty.

How is donor retention measured?

There are numerous significant donor retention metrics that your nonprofit should think about tracking as key performance indicators (KPIs), such as: 

  • Donor retention rate measures the percentage of donors that give again after their initial contribution. Use this baseline metric to set donor retention goals.
  • Average gift size helps indicate whether retained donors are giving more or less over time. You could use your average gift size KPI to adjust your initial ask account to reflect your donors’ current ability to give.
  • Frequency of giving measures how often donors contribute to your organization. You might prioritize promoting your monthly giving program if your frequency of giving KPI is lacking.
  • Donor lifetime value measures the total value of a donor’s contributions following their initial contribution. 
  • Donor retention cost measures how much you spend on outreach efforts to maintain existing donor relationships. By comparing this to your cost to acquire a new donor, your nonprofit can evaluate how effective and valuable your retention strategy is and adjust it accordingly.

All of these metrics provide data that you can use to optimize your donor engagement strategies from many angles. 

What are the common reasons donors stop giving?

Understanding why some donors stop giving can help you proactively prevent churn and secure more repeat donations. While each donor is different, here are the most common reasons why they might stop contributing: 

  • Lack of communication: If a donor hears radio silence after contributing, they might feel unappreciated or unsure that their gift had any real impact.
  • Too many fundraising appeals: While a lack of communication is problematic, you also don’t want to inundate donors with appeals or irrelevant, generic communications.
  • Poor donor journey: Donors may stop giving if they experience roadblocks in their donor journey, such as an unoptimized online donation form.
  • A shift in financial status: Your donor might cancel their gift if their budget has changed.
  • Loss of interest: If your nonprofit doesn’t keep your donors engaged, they might lose interest in your mission and stop contributing
  • Negative publicity: Controversy surrounding your nonprofit, its staff, or board members can yield a loss of trust from your donors.
  • Lack of financial transparency: If your donors don’t understand what their gift is being used for and your organization’s financial practices, it might lead them to distrust your use of their funds.
  • Competition: Donors may find another organization that better engages them or aligns with their values and decide to contribute to them instead. 

Fortunately, your nonprofit can combat these reasons for churn and create a more connected and passionate donor community with the rest of the tips in this guide.

What are some important donor retention statistics?

These statistics show how crucial prioritizing donor retention is for your nonprofit.
  • The average donor retention rate for nonprofits is 40-45%. (GiveSmart).
  • The cost of bringing in a new donor is often double or even triple the amount of their initial donation. (Instil)​.
  • A 10% reduction in donor attrition can yield up to a 200% increase in projected value. (Instil).

Donor Retention Best Practices

Now that you understand the importance of donor retention, it’s time to implement retention best practices into your organization’s daily operations. Consider adding the following practices to foster a donor-centric culture:

1. Segment donor communications.

To keep donors engaged enough to keep giving over time, your team must personalize your outreach efforts as much as possible. Donors respond better to communications crafted with their own interests and priorities in mind, but don’t worry—you don’t have to spend all of your time painstakingly personalizing messages. Using segmentation techniques allows you to send customized messages efficiently. 

Using your donor database, separate your donors into groups based on certain criteria, such as:

  • Profession: Donors in stable careers are more likely to have money to donate. Plus, their workplaces might have corporate philanthropy programs that you can promote for retention and increased giving. 
  • Giving history: If a loyal donor who used to make an annual donation has stopped, you could craft a targeted message inviting them to re-engage. 
  • Interests or preferences: Donors are more likely to renew their support for campaigns that they’ve shown interest in before.
  • Engagement level: This can include factors such as event attendance, volunteer involvement, and other activities outside of simply donating. Suggesting they get involved in another aspect of your nonprofit’s work can lead to higher engagement and another donation down the line.
  • Communication preferences: Segment your message delivery based on your donors’ communication preferences, such as email, direct mail, SMS, or phone call.

Segmentation is only possible when your nonprofit keeps thorough information in your database and frequently cleans it out. NPOInfo’s guide to nonprofit data hygiene recommends establishing a regular cadence for deleting duplicate records, appending contact information, and amending inconsistencies in your database. 

2. Demonstrate impact.

Your donors want to know that their investment in your organization has a real effect on your beneficiaries. Win future donations by showing each donor their impact on the pursuit of your mission. You can demonstrate impact and secure recurring gifts by:

  • Sending detailed impact reports to each donor. After your campaign has finished, send your donors segmented messages detailing exactly how their contribution made a difference. 
  • Creating an annual report. This document provides a great opportunity to present your organization’s progress and how particular donors helped you achieve your goals. Consider adding a donor shoutout section where you list the top donors and the influence of their contributions.
  • Introducing them to beneficiaries. Organize a donor beneficiary meet and greet (with permission) where donors can learn about their gifts’ impacts straight from the beneficiaries. This allows your supporters to forge a personal bond with beneficiaries and better understand that their actions significantly change lives. 

No matter which strategy you take, ensure you demonstrate more than monetary impact to donors. They’re aware of how much they gave, but they might not know what the gift provided.

For instance, a food bank might tell a donor that their gift provided 30 families with meals for the rest of the month. This gives your donors a unique perspective on their own philanthropic practices and can inspire them to increase their engagement going forward.

3. Prioritize transparency and accountability.

To sustain the satisfaction of your donors, your nonprofit needs to win and keep their trust. Emphasize your commitment to transparency by:

  • Publishing your Form 990. Your organization’s Form 990 is publicly available and provides all financial and personnel information to potential supporters. Post your Form 990 on your website for easy access.
  • Regularly auditing data. Your nonprofit has a responsibility to your beneficiaries and stakeholders to keep accurate records. Integrate data hygiene into your daily operations by periodically reviewing important data and being accountable for any discrepancies.
  • Encouraging feedback. Ask donors and other stakeholders for their feedback on your nonprofit’s direction, effectiveness, and other considerations. 

Allow your donors to rest assured that they’re supporting a reputable nonprofit by maintaining transparency throughout the fundraising process.

Learn more about donor retention and dozens of other pressing topics through NXUnite panels.

Creative Activity Ideas to Boost Donor Retention

Now that you understand the overall best practices you should integrate into your daily operations, it’s time to put them into action and pursue donor retention. Consider the following activity ideas that can help improve donor retention:

1. Provide ongoing involvement opportunities.

There could be any number of factors impacting your donors’ giving habits. Keep supporters engaged no matter their financial situation by offering numerous ways to get involved with your nonprofit’s mission, like:

Unfortunately, once a donor’s pattern of giving is changed, it’s a slippery slope to them churning and losing their passion for your cause. Avoid this outcome by keeping their enthusiasm alive with other ways to contribute to your cause. They’ll be more likely to start giving again once they’re able to!

2. Offer exclusive benefits and experiences.

Simply put, without your donors, your work wouldn’t be possible. Express your genuine gratitude for their contributions by recognizing donors, both publicly and privately. Here are some unique ways to show your thanks:

  • Launch a donor loyalty program. Loyalty programs incentivize continued engagement with rewards. For instance, you might offer a small gift basket for donors who renew their annual donation for the fifth year in a row.
  • Offer tokens of appreciation. Besides a loyalty program, you can give donors tokens of your thanks for individual donations. For example, you could offer a t-shirt with your nonprofit’s branding for gifts above $200. 
  • Organize VIP experiences. Show your donors a good time by extending an exclusive invitation to your events. You could curate a VIP experience for donors above a certain threshold complete with free food, a backstage tour of your facility, and one-on-one conversations with officers or board members. 

Your supporters will be impressed with your nonprofit’s outstanding commitment to donor appreciation and might renew their support to access more exclusive offerings like these!

3. Promote corporate social responsibility programs.

Leveraging corporate social responsibility (CSR) offerings, such as matching gifts and volunteer grants, are a powerful way to renew and increase support for your organization. 

According to Double the Donation’s list of matching gift statistics, 84% of survey participants said they were more likely to donate to a nonprofit if a match is offered by their employer. However, only a fraction of CSR money is claimed each year due to employee unawareness of their company’s matching gift policy. To access the benefits of CSR, it’s up to your nonprofit to spread awareness of CSR offerings by:

  • Using a matching gift tool with auto-submission capabilities. Make it effortless for donors to secure a matched gift from their company by integrating a matching gift tool with auto-submission into your giving page. This software allows supporters to request a matching gift from their employers without the tedious work of submitting forms to the company. Instead, they simply input their work email address into the system and the software submits a request on the donor’s behalf.
  • Hosting a matching gift Giving Day. By hosting a Giving Day specifically geared towards generating matching gifts, you can activate urgency for your cause and inspire donors to check their employer’s matching gift programs.
  • Creating calls-to-action leading to your CSR information page. First, write an informational page on your website explaining everything a donor needs to know about CSR. Then, include clickable call-to-action banners in your email messages that promote the page. 

Empowering your donors to leverage CSR supercharges your fundraising potential and inspires supporters to continue impacting your mission, with the help of their employer.

Send personalized milestone greetings.

Keeping in touch with donors about personal milestones is important for establishing rapport and showing that you care about them as people. Some milestones you could reach out on include:

  • Birthdays
  • Work anniversaries
  • Anniversaries of supporting your organization
  • Holidays
  • Wedding anniversaries

Using your CRM, keep track of any personal information you gather about your donors through casual conversations with them. Then, set reminders so you can send your custom messages on time. Don’t forget to make your messages pop by using your nonprofit’s branding or by sending an eCard.

Wrapping Up 

Maintaining strong connections with donors over time can be difficult, especially when aiding your beneficiaries is your top priority. But, by incorporating donor retention best practices and activities, you can spark interest in your cause while cultivating long-term relationships and support. 

Plus, your nonprofit has many options for structuring your retention efforts, from sending eCards to offering exclusive branded merchandise. Ultimately, as long as your team shows your authentic appreciation for your donor’s support and demonstrates their significant impact, you’ll have a sustainable donor retention rate for years to come.

Additional Resources

The Beginner’s Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Marketing. Want to learn how to level up your marketing efforts to acquire and retain more donors? Learn from the experts at NXUnite in this guide.

Upcoming Webinars, Panels, and Discussions with Industry Experts. NXUnite gathers all of the nonprofit professionals in one place for insightful discussions via panels and webinars. Join the conversation by signing up today!

Donor Recognition: A Strategic Guide to Showing Appreciation. Once you’ve acquired or retained your donors, thanking them for their support is crucial. Secure long-lasting relationships with donors by following the unique tips in this guide.

NXUnite panels can help you learn even more donor retention tips and best practices. Click the button to sign up!
Learn how to raise funds and nurture supporter relationships on social media by employing these nonprofit social media fundraising tips.

Inspiring Social Support: 5 Social Media Fundraising Tips

With 4.76 billion social media users across the globe, each spending over 2.5 hours on the platforms every day, it’s clear that nonprofits must incorporate social media into their fundraising and donor communication strategies.

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can empower your organization to spread the word about its cause, cultivate enduring relationships around the world, and raise significant funds to further its mission.

For nonprofits interested in leveling up their social media fundraising strategy, we’ll walk through five impactful tips to generate more revenue from social platforms:

  1. Leverage social media fundraising tools.
  2. Share impact frequently.
  3. Cultivate one-on-one relationships with supporters.
  4. Evaluate your fundraising results.
  5. Express gratitude to donors.

It’s no secret that the key to successful fundraising and donor engagement lies in meeting your supporters where they are. Today, you’ll find many of them eager to interact with and contribute to your nonprofit on social media. Let’s jump right into the best ways to inspire their support.

1. Leverage social media fundraising tools.

Social media is a powerful tool for uniting people around the world under common interests, values, or causes. With this in mind, many platforms have developed features that make it easy for nonprofits to gather support and raise funds. For instance, since Meta’s fundraising tools first became available, organizations and their supporters have raised over $7 billion on Facebook and Instagram.

Therefore, making use of the social media fundraising tools at your nonprofit’s disposal can boost your results. For example, according to GoodUnited, Facebook offers a wide array of useful fundraising tools, including:

  • Birthday fundraisers. Around their birthdays or other occasions, Facebook allows users to take the lead in fundraising for your nonprofit. About two weeks in advance, users will typically receive a notification prompting them to create a birthday fundraiser to celebrate their special day. When they select your nonprofit, their fundraiser will auto-populate with your Facebook cover photo and mission statement, ready to be shared with their personal networks to collect contributions on your behalf.
  • Facebook Challenges. Your nonprofit can engage existing supporters and attract new ones by hosting a Facebook Challenge. To start one, you’ll need to choose a Challenge activity, preferably related to your cause, such as completing 50 jumping jacks each day for a whole month. Then, gather participants in a Facebook group to build a supportive community throughout the Challenge and raise funds in this peer-to-peer event.
  • Donate buttons. Make it convenient for donors to give directly on the platform by adding Facebook’s Donate button to your nonprofit’s page and posts. Since this button appears on reshared posts as well, this is an excellent way to reach a wider audience and secure additional support.

While it’s important to establish a social media presence on several different platforms to reach supporters of varying demographics and preferences, be sure to identify the most relevant ones to your organization’s goals and target audience. This allows you to better focus your efforts and maximize your results.

2. Share impact frequently on social media.

To achieve optimal results with social media fundraising tools, however, your nonprofit will have to inspire supporters to get and stay involved. It’s essential to share impact on a regular basis so existing and prospective donors understand exactly how you’re effecting positive change with your work.

Compelling visuals and impact videos tend to be particularly successful in catching a user’s eye, so lean into the power of graphic design as you communicate your organization’s impact. Ensure that the images, colors, and symbols in your posts all cohesively convey your mission and branding.

One of eCardWidget’s donor retention strategies centers on sharing detailed and specific impact stories to keep supporters motivated. For example, after a Facebook Challenge, a health-related nonprofit can share that the funds raised enabled it to launch and run a new prevention program in the community. This helps donors feel proud of their contributions and enthusiastic to continue giving.

3. Cultivate one-on-one relationships with social media supporters.

Social media users can generate massive support for your nonprofit organization if you engage with them effectively. Facebook fundraisers, for instance, leverage the power of your supporters’ individual networks to boost awareness and raise funds for your nonprofit. 

However, the end of a Facebook fundraiser doesn’t have to be the end of your relationship with the supporter who created it or with those who donated. By properly stewarding them, you can create social media connections that stand the test of time.

To accomplish this, engage in conversational messaging with supporters. Facebook Messenger makes the process easy. Let’s say a user creates a birthday fundraiser on Facebook and encourages their friends and family to donate to your nonprofit in lieu of birthday gifts. Your nonprofit can use conversational messaging to provide them with a personalized experience by sending them encouragement, sharing tips for success, and expressing gratitude.

4. Evaluate your social media fundraising results.

Collecting data is crucial for any nonprofit fundraising initiative because it can generate productive insights that you can apply to future efforts. When it comes to social media fundraising, your nonprofit should keep track of:

  • Fundraisers created by supporters on your behalf
  • Transaction reports
  • Average size of gifts made to fundraisers
  • Average number of donations made to each fundraiser
  • Number of new donors who gave

Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns can travel far on social media, spreading from network to network and boosting awareness for your nonprofit. Make the most of this fundraising method by constantly seeking ways to optimize your strategy for greater results.

5. Express gratitude to social media donors.

No fundraising strategy is complete without having a plan in place to recognize donors and express appreciation for their support. When it comes to social media fundraising, the first step is identifying everyone who has made a gift to your organization. Facebook’s donation reports list basic donor information, such as the individual’s first and last name, and potentially an email address.

When reaching out to these donors, be sure to:

  • Personalize your thank-you. Rather than sending a generic, blanket thank-you message to your donors on social media, strive to incorporate each individual’s preferred name and specific gift amount to show that your nonprofit values them personally.
  • Suggest additional opportunities to contribute. Based on how each donor interacts with your organization, provide other ways they may be interested in supporting your mission, from volunteering to attending a fundraising event.
  • Encourage continued connection, such as through conversational messaging. Apart from thanking supporters, you can ask questions or send surveys to gather information on what compels them to give to your nonprofit.

Thanking donors on Facebook and other social media platforms will not only boost your nonprofit’s donor retention rate, but will also build a reputation of gratitude and sincerity around your organization online. Furthermore, by spotlighting individual contributions, you can inspire others to join in through social proof.

Social media platforms have become popular hubs for nonprofits to acquire, engage, and steward supporters around the world. This means that there is plenty for your organization to do to maximize your social media fundraising results.

To reduce the time and effort it takes to nurture strong connections and raise revenue on social media, consider working with a company that can manage the process for you. After all, your nonprofit’s ultimate focus is on making a lasting difference in the community while continuing to generate the funds to do so.

Healthcare Data Cleansing: Frequently Asked Questions

Did you know that every patient generates millions of detailed records in real-time? That’s a lot of data to collect, store, and make comprehensible. Not to mention, healthcare organizations must take special care to adhere to regulatory requirements across several different data types.

That’s where healthcare data cleansing comes in. This necessary process keeps healthcare data sets from becoming unusable which can have severe consequences. In this guide, we’ll explore data cleansing in depth by answering the following questions:

  • What is healthcare data cleansing? 
  • What causes dirty data?
  • What are the benefits of healthcare data cleansing?
  • How can healthcare organizations maintain proper data hygiene? 

Keep in mind that healthcare data cleansing requires a robust data platform that can either be built in-house by a team of analysts and data scientists or bought through a vendor. Whichever solution your team chooses, it will need to be scalable to keep up with an increase in data over time. With this in mind, let’s explore data cleansing in greater detail. 

What is healthcare data cleansing?

Healthcare data cleansing, also called healthcare data scrubbing or cleaning, is an essential part of data hygiene and refers to the process of identifying and rectifying errors within a healthcare data set. This data set is integrated from a variety of sources such as EHRs, claims systems, lab systems, and administrative databases stored within a centralized healthcare data warehouse.

How often your organization cleans its data set is dependent on several factors, including:

  • The size of your organization
  • The volume of data collected 
  • The speed at which data is collected 
  • The associated regulatory and compliance requirements
  • The desired outcomes of your collected data 

Healthcare organizations must regularly clean their data to maintain quality standards. The frequency of data cleansing will be determined by the data quality controls put in place within your existing workflows. 

What causes dirty healthcare data?

Dirty healthcare data is caused by a variety of factors that can quickly add up and cause severe system roadblocks. These factors include:

  • Duplicate data: Because data is inputted from several sources, it can be easy to incur data duplications. This slows down your data reporting and analysis processes and makes it difficult to draw meaningful insights. 
  • Inaccurate data: Data reporting errors from patients or providers can invalidate your data set and cause lasting issues that may take significant time to resolve. 
  • Incomplete data: Omissions, forgotten updates, and missing data all prevent a full patient picture which could lead to workplace inefficiencies at best and inaccurate patient diagnoses and treatments at worst. 

In a system as large as healthcare, data collection errors are bound to happen. To prevent them ahead of time, create standardized rules for accurate data entry and task team members to audit your database on a regular basis to locate errors.

What are the benefits of healthcare data cleansing? 

A clean data set can work wonders for your organization. In fact, the benefits of healthcare data cleansing can be tracked across several key measures: 

  • Operational and cost efficiency: A clean data set saves both operational time and money. This means that your team will spend less time sifting through incomplete data while maximizing your resources. 
  • Data storage efficiency: Most data is stored within a healthcare data warehouse and must undergo substantial cleaning efforts to transform from raw data to usable data. Quality measures ensure that your organization has access to a structured, organized healthcare data warehouse. 
  • Data analytics accuracy: Analytics tools help your organization visualize health outcomes which include risk adjustment analysis, population health management, and patient engagement among others. Clean data keeps these analytic reports accurate and up to date.  
  • Improved patient outcomes: Because each data point represents an individual patient, a clean data set provides the chance to improve patient outcomes at a quicker rate. Which means providers can access the right information and the right time.
  • Enhanced billing processes: Correct data streamlines the payor and patient billing process and prevents unnecessary costs. In turn, your organization can better approach financial reporting. 

The bottom line: A clean healthcare data set is essential for data-backed decision-making. With comprehensive data quality measures in place, your organization can see measurable growth across major stakeholders. 

How can healthcare organizations maintain proper data hygiene?

On the ground level, healthcare data cleansing can be understood as a series of steps or ordered processes. These steps include: 

  1. Validation: Your data must be validated for accuracy, completeness, and consistency during this initial data cleansing phase. Data analysts identify and remove discrepancies and duplications to ensure data accuracy.
  1. Standardization: Once data discrepancies are eliminated or appropriately evaluated, data analysts must standardize data formats so that they match. For instance, an analyst must ensure that a patient with a recently changed last name is accurately represented.
  1. Error Correction: Data professionals must detect and correct any remaining inconsistencies. This process may include outlier detection, data profiling, and other methods to resolve inaccuracies. 
  1. Completeness verification: Incomplete data is assessed and missing values are accounted for and properly documented using appropriate methods.
  1. Integration: Data is then consolidated or integrated from several sources into one data set (while adhering to privacy laws) also known as a healthcare data warehouse. Then, the usable data can be extracted for meaningful analysis. 
  1. Review and monitoring: Data is reviewed and monitored on a regular basis to ensure quality and accuracy measures are sufficiently met. Data audits, quality assurance checks, and external data validation are all a part of this process. 

Because this process can be involved, many organizations turn to healthcare data professionals to outsource their data collection, cleaning, and analysis. Often, data scientists and analysts are forced to write elaborate queries for unstable and untrustworthy databases, but data platforms like Arcadia Foundry can simplify several data collection and analysis processes. 

These platforms are built for analysts by analysts and are consistently enriched with clean, quality data, so organizations don’t have to rely on their own cleansing and standardization processes to extract meaningful insights. 

Maintaining an accurate, usable healthcare data set requires consistent data cleansing. If your organization decides to perform its own data cleansing be sure to follow the outlined best practices for quality assurance. If your organization decides to outsource its data cleansing to a vendor, make sure they offer comprehensive and reliable services. 

About the Author: Nick Stepro

Nick Stepro is the Chief Product Officer at Arcadia, where he leads the design of the next wave of advanced healthcare analytics applications — including Arcadia Analytics, which has been praised as having one of the best user interfaces in the industry. He has worked with large health systems and payers to design and execute on innovative clinical integration and business intelligence strategies to drive improved health outcomes and reduced system costs.
Nick believes in good design and data visualization. When combined with focused expertise in analytics, healthcare and business process, the results are intuitive data-driven applications that empower users to dramatically improve the way they run their businesses. His data visualization work has been covered on NPR, U.S. News and World Report, Medical Ethics Advisor, and elsewhere. Becker’s Health IT and CIO Review recently named him one of “31 Health IT and Revenue Cycle Whiz Kids” to watch. He has spoken at Medcity CONVERGE, AMIA, and HIMSS and has been a guest lecturer on data visualization at Georgia Tech. In December 2016, he was the closing speaker at the CCO Oregon Cost of Care conference.