IRE/NICAR Tipsheet No. 478

Tips on setting up a contribution database

Lise Olsen lise@infi,net or 1-800-446-2004 ext. 2424
The Virginia-Pilot

The Basics:
1. Start small-a city election is a good way to begin.
2. If you go statewide, consider cooperating with a university, another paper or private vendor to do the date entry, especially if you have a small staff. It can be very time consuming-and expensive.
3. If you decide to do it yourself, do a lot of brainstorming in advance about how you will use the data. Design your database fields to fit the stories you want to do.
4. Train everyone who is entering data to use the same abbreviation and procedures. Write down those rules-and post them.
5. Check it twice-at least. Check the entries word by word at least one, and recheck totals against original reports.

More Complicated Stuff
If you want to do a complex statewide database, here are some suggestions:

1. Make it a relational database. That probably means you'd have one file with individual contributors, one file with organizations/PACS, a file with contributions, and a master field of candidates. Here's what each could contain:
Individuals: First, last name, address, occupation, notes on other important information. If you already have a statewide database. Like driver's license records, or voter registration record make that your master file. It will save you a lot of time.
Corporations: Name, address, city and SIC code, or type of company (you can use one developed by the National Library on Money in Politics or make up your own.) To get SIC codes, you can consults a CD-ROM like PhoneDisc. In Virginia, don't forget to track liquor, tobacco and gambling interests along with the doctors, lawyers and paper mills.
Contributions: Amount, date, whether in-kind or cash, report, page number or report,
Candidates: full name, party, won/lost, incumbent/challenger, etc.

2. Set up a date-entry screen so you can search for matches as data is entered. This reduces duplication/inconsistencies and allows you enter data much more quickly. It also allows you to screen out certain kinds of errors.