Image of a woman on a laptop with text "Data Best Practices"

Data Best Practices: Salesforce Duplicates

Our team compiled data best practices for your nonprofit’s success when using Salesforce.


Data plays a pivotal role in empowering nonprofits, especially when it comes to understanding and managing donor and supporter relationships. Salesforce is widely used as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform to store and manage this information.


When utilized correctly, Salesforce can serve as a guide for understanding your customer or donor base and, in turn, can be leveraged for organizational efficiency, resource allocation management, and clarity into what’s working and what isn’t in terms of sales, marketing, and efforts across your organization. However, when used incorrectly, Salesforce can be an expensive, clunky, and confusing source of potential disinformation and can cause severe misalignment across different specialties or departments inside your organization. 


The Reliable and the Unreliable 


As a data analyst, I look to the records and data of an organization to answer key business questions. If the records and data are in disarray, then time, resources, and effort have to be poured into making the data structure usable and reliable. 

A common obstacle for the intrepid Salesforce explorer is the existence of duplicates in the database. It happens more easily than you think. Imagine, for instance, that you set up a workflow in Salesforce where if a user lands on your website and clicks a certain call-to-action button or downloads a report, they are entered into your CRM as a lead. Great! Automations rock!


However, now you’re noticing you have 9 leads, all with the same email but with minor changes and all reporting donations of $100.00. You now have over-reported donations by $800.00. Perhaps someone downloads a report which triggers a series of welcome emails, how is that person going to feel about your organization if they get the same series of emails every time they download a report?

On a larger scale, how can you make informed decisions about the course of your organization if you can’t trust your data?  Panic sets in, your organization doesn’t have a clear picture of your data, user journey, income from donations, user behavior, donor retention, and what’s working and what isn’t.


Fixing the problem

Don’t fret. You can untangle this and prevent it from happening again using data best practices. The fix is two-fold, first, you need to set up rules to notify or prevent you from entering a duplicate in your salesforce instance. The second part is deduplicating your existing records in Salesforce. 


Standardizing Fields


Before jumping into de-duplicating your records or setting up duplication rules, ask yourself a few things.

Who in my organization is using Salesforce?

How are they using it?

What standard fields can be agreed upon across the organization?

Consider the expertise within your organization around Salesforce. Does there need to be a training session on how to use this tool? Getting the most from Salesforce relies on buy-in from your team on standard record entry. Aligning on this point will improve search functionality and concise record creation and may prevent problems down the line. Something as simple as agreeing to use the entire company name as opposed to abbreviating can prevent duplicates from being created (imagine entries for Big Box Inc., Big Box Incorporated, and Big Box-when entered like this, you now show 3 different companies in your CRM)


Matching and Duplication Rules 


First things first, let’s get a handle on why these duplicates are occurring and what rules can be enabled to prevent this from happening in the future. There are two rules that work together to prevent duplicates, matching rules and duplicate rules. 


Matching rules can be leveraged to return records that are similar based on specified fields by using standard or customized algorithms. The matching rules identify how duplicate records are identified according to the logic you set in the dropdown menu based on fields such as email address, phone number, company name, and more. This matching criteria should be created based on the parameters that make sense for your organization and should be based on the agreed-upon standard fields and naming conventions mentioned earlier in this article.  


After setting up matching rules, set up duplicate rules to decide to do after a potential duplicate record is identified.

You can create custom rules or utilize Salesforce standard duplicate rules to send alerts, block the creation of a new record, or report when a duplicate is being edited or created. You can also customize the text that appears when someone in your organization is creating a duplicate. An example might read “It looks like this may be a potential duplicate of an existing record, please verify this record does not already exist in the system.”



Will the Real Non-Duplicates Please Stand Up?


You’ve set up some rules for preventing duplicates, the leak has been shut off. But what about all this water on the floor? What of all the leads and contacts and duplicates across and within both? 


Well, you have a few options. The first of these is a manual de-duplication process. Depending on the volume of duplicates, this process can be resource and time intensive and may not result in much progress. I recently was asked to do some deduplication of an existing Salesforce lead list for a large organization with many different departments using Salesforce. Due to the lack of standard naming conventions in this list and the siloed efforts to enter records into the system, I found I was only able to accurately deduplicate about 15 records an hour. There are over 100k records in that list. Manual de-duplication is just not worth the resource expenditure in that scenario in my opinion. So what can we do in a situation like this? 


Many vendors offer CRM lead deduplication services, such as RingLead, Cloudingo, and DupeCatcher. Omatic provides data hygiene and deduplication services exclusively for nonprofits through the use of proprietary algorithm. Omatic boasts over 20 years of experience working with nonprofit data health and integration. Datagroomr also offers deduplication services and extends a discount to nonprofits at the time of this articles release. Depending on the size and needs of your organization, contracting with a vendor to deduplicate your CRM records might be the most efficient route to getting a clean, reliable CRM.


You may also want to explore options like the REST API, which allows you to retrieve, analyze, merge, update, and delete records from Salesforce at scale.  This could be a good option depending on the technical abilities of your team, if hiring an outside vendor is out of the realm of possibility. 


Ultimately, your organization will need to decide for itself how to tackle de-duplication based on its size and capability. If you’re using Salesforce, you should be using standardized fields and naming conventions across your organization. Utilize matching and duplicate rules together to prevent duplication of records in the future, and create a plan to clean, scrub and repair your CRM of any duplicates or messy data.



Looking for Additional Data Best Practices?

We know that increasing efficiency is essential to nonprofit organizations. Data analytics can help your nonprofit identify everything from patterns of giving to the most popular email content, all of which benefit your planning and strategy. Our nonprofit marketing services are top-tier, and our data analytics services are no exception! 

To learn more about our services, contact a member of our team today.