How do we know philanthropy helps students succeed?

I have little doubt that philanthropy supports student success. Just don’t ask me how many students receive meaningful supports thanks to donors, or how donor dollars correlate to increases in student retention. The way universities usually silo their data, those questions are nearly impossible to answer.

We ought to have answers. Reporting dollars raised is not the same as reporting impact. Increasingly, institutional strategic goals involve various departments working together. If we have shared goals, then we need to have shared data. How else to set targets and track progress?

We need Data Governance.

Data Governance is the policy framework that establishes that key administrative data, regardless of where it is created or where it resides, is an asset of the institution, to be used to guide strategy and decision-making.

Where governance is lacking, the problem is often perceived as primarily technical (give it to IT to figure out) or a negotiation among data “owners” (get all 50 stakeholders in the room). It’s neither.

IT and the individual custodians of data operate a level or two below governance. They deal with issues of data management, data definitions, security, protection of personal information, access control and appropriate use, and so on. All important matters, but secondary to what is fundamentally an issue of institutional policy, formulated at the level of university leadership.

So when I think of Data Governance, I assume it’s prefixed by the word “institutional.” The term doesn’t have meaning for me when applied to a single department such as Advancement. That might be data management, but it’s not data governance.

Given its central nature, what role can Advancement Operations play? To borrow a line from another context, we must lead from where we are. Where governance is lacking it is up to us to work with allies across the institution to give the issue the profile it deserves.

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