Alexis Sykut
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The Two Riskiest Reporting Errors—and How to Prevent Them

I’m sure you can picture this situation: it’s the end of the year, and you are your colleagues are scrambling to get your year-end reports together. It’s just at this time when your team realizes that system errors or operational changes have not been reflected in reports. The System Administrator or Database Administrator (DBA) then has to sift through a year worth of data (sometimes millions of transactions!) to identify where the numbers are off and how to correct these errors.

In our vast experience consulting for nonprofit clients on their data, this is one of the most common issues we run into—reports not clearing audit at the end of the year.

However, these hassles, which come up during what’s often the busiest time of year, can be avoided.

The solution? Proactive audits.


Proactive audits are a process of using business intelligence to identify high-risk errors in data collection. DBAs can set up a series of dashboards that identify unusual patterns in the data and then notify the appropriate parties as the issues occur. Some systems, such as JCA Answers (powered by Sisense) enable you to set up notifications when a specific audit flag has been triggered. This option diminishes the risk of report review burn-out, which is when you ignore a report because you see it days and weeks at a time with no error and thus, miss the times it does have errors.

There are two types of high-risk errors we see with Answers clients: systematic and operational.

1. Systematic Errors: Errors in data entry caused by incorrect configurations, printer, or computer failure

- Example A: Discrepancies between Order Headers and journal records. This is often caused by printer errors or returns that get journalized but the Order record is unavailable for update.

- How to Audit: Create an audit report that pulls Issued Tickets, Balance, and Charge Balance from the Order Header and compares to journal transactions. When an order is flagged as having discrepancies, contact the system vendor for help on resolving the discrepancy.

End of Year Reporting Audit Screenshot

- Example B: Unbalanced transactions. For every transaction there should be a credit and debit. If there are any interruptions to the recording of a transaction, it is possible for a transaction to be unbalanced. 

- How to Audit: Create an audit report that compares the credits and debits on a transaction to insure it is balanced. When a transaction is flagged as unbalanced, void the unbalanced transaction and ring it up again with the correct information.


2. Operational Errors: Errors in data entry caused by changes in operations that are not reflected in the calculations or end users not following procedures.

- Example A: Inaccurate data collection (such as zipcodes, surveys, and email addresses). If operators are asked to enter any information at a prompt that is not automatically keyed in, it is not uncommon for them to enter in garbage, refusal codes, or even their own information.

- How to Audit: Create a report by user, indicating how many transactions that the data entered is valid. If a user is not meeting the acceptable error threshold, they should be re-trained in the importance of the data collection and what it impacts. Sometimes, simply knowing they are monitored will provide better data entry!


- Example B: Timeliness data entry errors. For departments that perform a large number of operations outside of your organization’s system or database, such as major giving solicitation or group/educational visits, it is often common for data to be entered long past when the actual meeting or visit occurs. Unfortunately, this can cause complications in the accuracy of reports delivered to executive staff.

How to Audit: Create reports that set expectations and goals for meetings, actions, and closing group orders on a weekly basis. Incorporate these reports into weekly reviews with the individuals who are responsible for the data entry. Set clear policies in place for how soon things must be entered—and explain the why behind it!Data Entry Audit for End Of Year Reports

Screenshot - correcting errors in reports


Systematic errors are often easy to identify but more difficult to fix. Operational errors are often difficult to identify but easier to fix. By applying a proactive approach, though, these issues can be resolved before the end-of-year crunch to get reports out—saving time, frustration, and delays!

For more data insights, download our eBook: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Data Analysis

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If you need more assistance with building reports, cleaning your data, or developing better data processes, contact us!