Using Imports for Good

Many clients approach data imports with some trepidation - perfectly understandable, since the process can seem a bit opaque, it’s not always clear what data is required, and error messages in the import process can be somewhat challenging to decipher. 

It’s perhaps obvious that you would use imports for adding contacts, participants, contributions, etc., but there are other uses for Civi’s import functionality.  For example, you can use the import process to add contacts to a group, or to bulk update them (e.g., adding a new custom field of data). 

If you’re importing data related to contributions or participants, it’s important to remember that all contacts must be in CiviCRM before you try to import other data.  Civi’s import process will not simultaneously create contacts and add contributions/participant records, so you’ll need to make two passes with your data to complete your import.

Here are some use cases for imports and tips for completing them successfully.

Adding Contacts to a Group

If you have a list of contacts that you want to add to a group, you can use Civi’s search functions to do that, or you can generate a list with all the contacts you want to include in your group and use the import tool to populate your group.  The absolute lowest-risk import file would include the Civi ID of each contact you want to include; you could also match on first name, last name, and email.  When you import the file, select the option to update contacts, and on the last import screen, choose the group to which you want to add your contacts.  Job done!

Bulk Update

Perhaps you have some new custom data you need to add to certain contacts in your system.  You can export a list of the contacts to whom you want to add that information, add columns in the spreadsheet with that data, and then import the file to create that data on contact records - much easier than doing this one at a time, or even updating via a profile, especially if you have a large number of contacts to update!  (Obviously you’ll want to create the custom fields to hold the data in Civi before you upload your file.)

Uploading Contributions or Participants

As noted above, you need to ensure all contacts are in Civi before you upload these types of data.  If your file already includes the Civi IDs of the contacts, then you’re good to go.  If not, and you want to minimize the risk either of duplicates or of attaching information to the wrong contacts, here are some tips for success.  They may seem like more work, but following my mother’s dictum of “measure twice, cut once,” they will reduce the likelihood of problems in the import process.

You can use the same file for both imports.  Just be sure that you have the necessary info for both imports in the file.  For contacts, the minimum fields would be first name, last name (or organization name, if you’re importing these to orgs), and email.  For other types of data:

  • Contributions - financial type, receive date, amount, payment method, contribution status (usually completed)
  • Participants - participant role, participant status, event.  (Interestingly, register date isn’t required.)

Tag/group the contacts so you can pull them back out.  This is something I’ve learned to do in the wake of many import catastrophes over the years… if the contacts are tagged, you can easily identify which contacts were updated in the import process if something goes wrong.  Even if everything goes smoothly, however, it’s helpful to be able to export the list of contacts so you can get the Civi contact IDs.  Contribution and participant imports can work with FN/LN/email, but using the Civi ID to match the records is the best way to ensure everything gets imported to the correct contacts. 

VLOOKUP is your friend.  If you’re not familiar with the VLOOKUP spreadsheet formula, learning how to use it is a terrific New Year’s resolution idea.  It can make your work with data much easier.  Need a tutorial?  Try this one.  (If you use Google Sheets, VLOOKUP is available there too.)  In this specific context, you can use VLOOKUP to match up Civi IDs from your export file to the contacts in your contribution/participant file.  Once you’ve added it, your contribution/participant import should be a breeze.

Have questions about imports?  Would you like to schedule a screenshare to review these processes?  We’re happy to help - just contact your support email to start the conversation.

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