10 things to watch for in database software 

One of the most valuable assets that a political campaign can build is a campaign database of contact records. A large, clean contact database has both huge financial value and huge political value. Look no further than the OFA database as the primo example of creating value with data.

Unfortunately, the political database world is confusing and most campaigns are not sure what database products they should buy or what it takes to create, manage and leverage campaign data.

Here are the top 10 things to look for when selecting a campaign database:

1. Political specific databases vs. general, all-purpose databases

By choosing a database designed specifically for politics, you can hit the ground running because it’ll work correctly on day one. All-purpose databases will require customization, testing, and trial and error and will always be a kludged solution. 

Political campaign needs are unique and all-purpose databases are usually designed to serve the larger needs of businesses, such as tracking customers, sales, inventories and accounts receivables. They’re not natively designed to track voter history, donations, pledges, voting precincts, redistricting, FEC reporting, etc.

2. Partisan vs. nonpartisan database vendors

My firm works on just one side of the aisle, so if you're looking for a competitive advantage, we think you should be employing partisan vendors. Buy from bipartisan vendors when you need standard utilities. 

Do you want the fees you pay to a bipartisan software vendor being used to improve the product for your competitor in the next cycle? Does a bipartisan company really care if you win or lose if they’re providing services to your competitor? By choosing a partisan vendor, you’re assuring yourself that their interests are very closely aligned to your own.

3. User rights and access control

Make sure your database allows for flexible user access control. The major benefit to a centralized database is that it allows everyone on your team to have access to the most current data. The challenge comes with maintaining data integrity. Who on your team has access to what data? Campaign databases with user rights and access control tools allow you to control who can view or make changes to your pristine data.

4. Data priority business rules

Make sure your database allows you to specify which data has priority over other data. 

For instance, say you get a new donation from a Mr. Abe Lincoln. You have a record of Abe voting, but the address is for his contribution is different than the voter file. What do you do? You can’t change the address for the donation because the finance team needs that one for the FEC filing. Do you change the address on the voter file? If you do, are you sharing this voter file with your state party or national committee? Do they trust your updated data? Is this even the same Abe Lincoln? Maybe you should create a new contact record for Abe, but will this create a duplicate record?

Sounds crazy, but you can see how your team needs data prioritization rules for how to prioritize any changes that are being introduced into the master database of record.

5. Data imports and data matching

Make sure you know what rules are being followed in terms of matching records when data is appended to your master database. If your database doesn’t have a robust matching process, you’ll create unnecessary duplicate records and append the wrong data to the wrong records.

6. Platform stability

Most SaaS database solutions are hosted on multi-tenant platforms, which means that you’re sharing the servers with your vendor’s other clients. Can your database vendor guarantee your database service will stay up if there is an unexpected usage spike? A database crash during a big fundraising day could cost you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. A crash on Election Day could cost you the election.

7. Data hygiene features

Duplicate records, old addresses, non-standard data, and incorrect spellings are unavoidable in any contact database. Good data hygiene services can correct addresses, normalize data and reduce the chance of having duplicate records. What hygiene processes do your prospective vendors provide? How often are they run? Make sure you know that your most valuable asset is being cared for properly.

8. Data security

Data security is a big deal and nothing is worse than finding out your campaign database has been compromised, except… by reading about it in the newspaper. Just ask Target who has one of the biggest and best customer CRMs in retail.

Your security budget is probably nowhere near as large as Target’s so you need to be extra careful and take data security seriously. Make sure whatever systems you use allow you to assign data usage rights based on different roles. Also, it goes without saying, never store credit card data in your database -- ever.

9. Backups

Make sure that your database is frequently backed up and that you have the option to “roll-back” your data to a previous version. How quickly can a vendor get your database back up should there be a “catastrophic” crash of your database? Data accidents do happen more frequently than anyone likes to admit. Confirm that your data is safe should the worst case occur.

10. Price

Pay for the database platform that will give you the best chance of winning your campaign.

Besides your candidate, your committee’s data is your most valuable asset. Don’t entrust it to a free or “cheap” app. Don’t start with an underpowered app with the thinking that you’ll move up to a “real” database once your campaign has momentum. Conducting database heart surgery in the midst of a political campaign is a very high-risk maneuver.

Political databases are the last place you should look to cut corners.

Erik currently runs sales and marketing for CMDI, the largest Republican fundraising technology platform. Prior to joining CMDI, Erik founded numerous fundraising technology companies whose products have raised over $350 million for hundreds of political and cause-based organizations.

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