Association of Advancement Services Professionals Virtual Summit Recap: 2021

Earlier this month, I attended the aasp Virtual Summit 2021 talking and listening to advancement professionals share their insights about their experiences as higher education and nonprofit fundraisers in a pandemic-challenged world. A large amount of knowledge was shared during the summit, and the three biggest topics of discussion from my perspective were: Data, Data, and Data!

1. Data Security

The recent data breach at Blackbaud has motivated many industry professionals to better understand how their sensitive constituent data are being secured, accessed, and utilized when stored in the cloud. Some organizations half-jokingly admitted relief that their current data was stored on a local server which escaped the breach. Of course, they also realize that an on-premise IT server is not a sustainable long-term data management solution. What is clear is that higher education organizations must assess their fundraising and engagement software vendors for robust security measures, data breach protocols, client communication practices and other trust-building processes. Higher education customers should also assess their organizations’ data security protocols as well.

For example, they should ask themselves questions like:

  • Are we using the latest data security technology?
  • Have our employees been educated about and protected from phishing scams and identity theft?
  • What are our policies around data privacy, backups, and retention?
  • How do we mitigate any ransomware threats?

You can never be 100% protected from all threats but having a robust data policy that assesses software vendors and your own organizational processes is critical in today’s world.

2. Data Privacy

For many organizations, the default philosophy around constituent data has been to collect all data available on donors and other constituents. Very little thought was put into the value, importance, and impact of collecting that much data, what to do with it, and the associated risk of managing it all. What I heard throughout the summit was a subtle shift in this position. Many expected the recent congressional hearing around Facebook’s business practices to impact data privacy practices. Many advancement professionals expect the United States to enact tougher data privacy laws to protect citizens from corporate and government data abuses and profiteering. Going forward, advancement professionals need to consider having some data governance protocols that help their organizations determine what data are critical to the mission, what data drive successful fundraising and engagement activities, and what data are valuable enough to warrant the risk associated with using and storing such sensitive data. As organizations collect more and more sensitive data (HIPAA, FERPA, Financial, to name a few), I encourage them to ask a few critical questions:

  • Do we actually need this information?
  • What are we going to do with it?
  • And how long are we going to keep it?

The days of collecting data for the sake of having data are over. Having a robust data governance policy will help mitigate the risk your organization may face in this ever-increasing data private world.

3. Data Analytics

I heard this phrase mentioned a lot during the summit: “We need to double our fundraising year over year…increase philanthropy!” This is a common goal for fundraising organizations to continually build upon success after success.

Traditionally, these organizations would hire more fundraisers to work with more donors and increase donor potential. This approach proved to be unstainable, and advancement professionals are now learning how to do more with less. This is where data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning can help. Tools such as Salesforce’s Tableau can help you navigate through the mounds of data you collect, find the critical attributes and behavior that drive successful outcomes and help you make decisions on what to do next. These tools are what I call data-scientists-in-a-box — they provide you the statistical horsepower of a data scientist without having to scour your local university to hire one at a premium. Tools like Tableau can help you determine things like:

  • What campaigns are more successful for a certain type of donor prospects
  • What is the next best step a fundraiser needs to take to secure a major gift
  • Critical factors and attributes that drive success, so that you can concentrate on those variables rather than having too broad a focus across hundreds of variables

Most importantly, because all of this is automated, the machine continues to learn as you feed it more and more variables and outcomes, allowing the system to refine the model over time. This is how fundraising organizations will be successful in the future where nimbleness and efficiency will help drive donations in an increasingly donor-competitive world.

Recapping My Recap

The future for advancement professionals is exciting. More technology is out there and strategies to connect with donors and alumni can be more sophisticated because of that technology.

We’re talking more about how to bring your advancement efforts into the digital world next week in a webinar with UC Innovation. Registration information can be found here.

Read more of our resources for higher education institutions:

About the Author

Shane Sugino
For the past decade, Shane has helped Higher Education institutions transform their operations and innovate in the cloud. Prior to joining Heller Consulting, Shane held roles in Financial Services, Healthcare, and technology, and he now brings that expertise while leading... Read More
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