To subscribe to the monthly C&E email newsletter and event announcements click here.

In the age of Big Data, campaigns are struggling to keep track of all their valuable information. And lost or missing data can be a particular headache when it comes to compliance.

Depending on how the campaign structures its data intake and storage, the end of an FEC reporting period could leave staffers scrambling like a bunch of procrastinators on Tax Day, but with more at stake than a few unwritten-off business dinners.

It’s important that a campaign has all of its revenue and expense data housed in a centralized database. All staff members and consultants of a campaign should know this, appreciate its importance, and abide by the centralized processes put in place around it.

Due to the intense pressure and long hours of campaign life, it may be tempting for a staff member to deviate from the process out of laziness or convenience—for instance, setting up another donation widget without telling anyone or incurring expenses without the treasurer’s approval. Any deviation is the creation of a puzzle piece that the campaign may or may not be able to locate in a timely manner during FEC reporting season.

A centralized database is vital for ensuring compliance with contribution limits. It also ensures a campaign maintains accurate, real-time budgeting. If there are 10 files of donor records that may or may not overlap, and three files of disbursements that may or may not overlap, the campaign is going to have a very difficult time unraveling and reconciling in time to report accurately. This headache can be avoided by a centralized database and a clearly-defined process that channels all receipts and expenses into that central repository.

Of equal importance is choosing the right donation processor. A flawed donation processor will hamper all the centralized efforts discussed above. A good donation processor will capture all the information required for the relevant regulatory body, whether it be the FEC or its state-level equivalent.

On the receipt side, this often will include the donor’s name, mailing address, employer, occupation, and donation amount. On the expense side, this often will include the vendor name, address, amount, and purpose description. Capturing all the information at once will obviate the need for time-consuming follow-up with busy donors and vendors. Moreover, a good donation processor will have security checks in place.

There should be mechanisms in place to prevent foreign or fraudulent contributions. Zip codes should match and be verified with addresses. The donation processor should remit funds to the committee in a timely fashion. The amounts should be reconciled and tie exactly to the amount contained in the detailed contributor report. Ideally, the donation processor will even feed right into the centralized database, minimizing the risk that something will be lost in the shuffle.

People tend to yawn and eye the coffee machine when you talk about data. But data drives aspects of a campaign ranging from compliance and fundraising to budgeting, analysis and strategy. Bad data begets compliance problems, debt, and bad decisions.

These unfortunate results often lead to electoral losses and head scratching. Good data begets healthy compliance, a sound balance sheet, and good decisions. And keeping close watch of said good data will empower a campaign and minimize the staff’s stress during reporting time.

Meanwhile, candidates will be free to flourish with their ideas and personality. A centralized database and the right donation processor will provide a complete puzzle that the campaign will hopefully, after its victory, be able to frame in success.

Brad Crate is the founder and president of Red Curve Solutions.