Manage Duplicate Contacts and Accounts

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Prevent the creation of duplicate data.
  • Merge contacts.
  • Merge accounts.

Prevent Duplicates in NPSP

Duplicate data results in unnecessary clutter, inaccurate reporting, and reduced efficiency. Imagine if you have two records for a major donor in your system and a staff person looks at one record that says that donor has never made a gift. The staff person then asks the donor to make their first contribution. While many donors might overlook the mistake, it will make some donors wonder if their donation is in good hands. The relationship with your donor suffers and that staff person will never trust your CRM system again. 

Of course your best defense against duplicate contacts and accounts is not to create them in the first place. So, training for your end users is key! Be sure that all your training materials encourage users to search before entering new contacts and accounts. That being said, nobody is perfect. The good news is that Salesforce has a nifty tool that can help.

Salesforce duplicate management searches for duplicates upon create and edit and then alerts the user and/or adds the potential duplicates to a report. Duplicate management consists of:

  • Matching Rules - the criteria for finding duplicate records
  • Duplicate Rules - the action that is taken when a user starts to create a potential duplicate

Salesforce standard matching detects potential duplicate records based on exact matches, such as two contacts with the same name, Roberto Alvarez. But you can also set up a rule to identify fuzzy matching for first names. With fuzzy matching, Robert Alvarez and Roberto Alvarez would be identified as potential duplicate records. 

NPSP actually comes pre configured with a matching and duplicate rule. You just need to review and activate them.

Activate NPSP Matching and Duplicate Rules

The NPSP matching rule matches on first name (fuzzy), last name (exact), and personal email (exact). Let's take a look at the matching rule and the duplicate rule and activate them both.

1. Click the gear icon ( Setup menu gear icon), then click Setup.

2. Enter “duplicate” in the setup search box.

3. Click on Matching Rules.

Duplicate matching rules settings page

4. To review the matching criteria, click on the rule.

NPSP contact personal email matching rule

Here we can see that the NPSP rule matches on first name (fuzzy), last name (exact), and personal email (exact). The NPSP matching and duplicate rules have been carefully designed to return the best possible set of matching candidates. If it’s not exactly what you need, you can always clone the NPSP rules and customize then to meet your requirements. 

5. If this meets your needs, then click Activate to activate this matching rule.

6. Now we need to activate the duplicate rule or what happens when a user starts creating a potential duplicate contact, account or custom record. Navigate back to the duplication management menu in Setup and click Duplicate Rules.

All Duplicate Rules list

7. Then click NPSP Contact Personal Email Match.

(1) There are two actions you can choose when a user creates a contact that is identified as a potential duplicate. Allow them to create the contact with or without an alert or block them from creating the contact. In this case, NPSP allows your user to create the contact.

(2) There are two options for what can happen when Salesforce matches a duplicate using your matching rules. You can alert the user and/or send the contact to a special report. In this case, NPSP chooses to do both.

(3) Review the matching rules that you activated in a previous step.

Duplicate rule setting and activation page

8. Click Activate.

Bam! You’ve just put into place a critical piece of a larger data management puzzle. You are one step closer to keeping user confidence in your data high and driving deeper adoption.

How Duplicate Management Works

Let’s see duplication management in action as our NMH development associate Sofia creates a new contact in Salesforce. She is entering the list of donors from a small special event held by one of her board members. Because it's a new board member, Sofia assumes the list is all new donors and doesn’t search for the donor names before she creates the new contact. She creates a new contact, entering enters the contact name and email that was given to her. 

Based on the criteria in the NPSP contact matching rule, Salesforce alerts Sofia that she may be creating a duplicate contact. As we mentioned, the NPSP duplicate rule determines Sofia’s options. Here she can click “View Duplicates” to choose to edit an existing contact OR she can continue to create this record and save it. 

Duplicate alert on the New Contact creation window

If Sofia continues to Save the potential duplicate, she will again see an alert about a potential duplicate on the new record. It will also show an alert in the potential duplicates component on the record detail page.

Duplicate alerts on contact detail page

Finally, if Sofia clicks View Duplicates, she'll be able to see the potential duplicate records, but she will not be able to merge them. Only an admin or another user who has been given the correct permissions can merge contacts.

Alert to ask admin for help with potential duplicate records

Good thing the duplication rule also adds the potential duplicate to a report for her admin Gorav to see and clean up later if needed. Gorav created a custom report type that included accounts, contacts and duplicate record items in order to report on the duplicate items.

Accounts with contacts and duplicate record items report

With duplicate management, we recommend that you start small by activating the NPSP rule and then add more if needed. Make sure your users know about the criteria for the matching rules and ask them for feedback so you can fine tune as you go along. 

While it's easy to blame overworked colleagues for your duplicates, it’s possible that a third-party integration or a data import may have caused the issue as well. Despite our best efforts, sometimes duplicates happen. And when they do, there is a handy tool in NPSP that can help.

Merge Contacts in NPSP

NPSP includes a tool that you can use to easily merge duplicate contacts. With NPSP contact merge, you choose which contact to keep and what data to use from each duplicate contact. All related items, such as opportunities and payments, from each contact are moved to the newly-merged contact so that no data is lost. 

Note that there is a generic Salesforce functionality that allows you to merge contacts, but this is not specific to NPSP. The generic Salesforce contact merge tool doesn't understand the distinction between a household and an organization account because household accounts only exist in NPSP. If you use this tool in NPSP, any merged contact will end up with an "anonymous" household, so we recommend that you always use the NPSP contact merge when you need to. 

Also note that to merge contacts, you must have the ability to delete contacts, access to every field on the contact record, AND access to both contacts through Salesforce security settings. All of this is required because merging contacts is destructive and it's easy to make mistakes. Once you merge and delete records, there is no way to get them back. For these reasons, we recommend that only admins merge contacts.



The NPSP contact merge feature does not search for duplicates or merge in bulk. You must already know which contacts you need to merge and handle them individually.

Let's follow along as our NMH admin Gorav merges the contacts that he found in his duplicate contacts report:

1. Click the Contact Merge tab. If you don't see Contact Merge, click the app launcher in the upper left and then select Contact Merge from the list of All Items.

2. Enter the name of the duplicate contact in the search bar, then click Search. You can use * as a wildcard. For example, if one contact is Robert Alvarez and the other is Roberto Alvarez, enter Robert* Alvarez to find both contacts.

3. In the found contacts list, select the contacts to merge. You can select up to three contacts.

NPSP Contact Merge Wizard Highlighting list of merged contacts

4. Click Next.

5. Pay careful attention when selecting the Master Record. This determines which account record the contact will be associated with after the merge. The contact(s) not selected as the Master Record will be deleted. Gorav examines the accounts associated with each of the contacts to merge and determines which should be the master account after the merge.

6. Choose fields from either record to include in the final merged record. Note that fields not chosen will be overwritten.

Pick the winning contact page in the merge contacts wizard.

7. Click Merge, then click OK on the red, somewhat scary pop-up warning that merging is irreversible.

After merging, Gorav takes a look at Roberto’s record to ensure that everything was merged correctly and then reviews his report to ensure that he has taken care of all the duplicates. He has successfully flexed his admin muscle!

Merge Household Accounts in NPSP

Household accounts can actually be merged by any user with edit and delete permissions who has access to the accounts. They can go to the household record and click Manage Household to add an existing contact to a household.

In this module, we’ve covered some of the key NPSP settings for contacts and accounts, next up we’ll explore some of the ways you can customize donation management in NPSP. 


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