Technology & Operations

In the era of big data, many nonprofits are recognizing the important role data governance plays in supporting key fundraising strategy and informing data-driven decision making. Data governance encompasses an overarching system designed to effectively manage data and the corresponding policies, procedures, and practices surrounding that data. In this way, a comprehensive data governance program establishes a solid foundation from which to efficiently oversee and utilize data while enabling organizations and their leadership to make critical business decisions informed by the most trusted information and analysis possible.

As the world currently finds itself in this period of intense uncertainty, the need for reliable and meaningful information to support critical business decisions has become an even more pressing concern for organizations across the globe. How a nonprofit organization enacts a data governance program to guide the way they structure, secure, and access data is quickly coming to the forefront of development operations strategy and decision making. With an increasing number of development teams making the shift to remote fundraising environments, the need for reliable, accurate, and readily accessible data to swiftly inform both short- and long-term strategic decision making is critical. More than ever, fundraising and operations staff must continuously adapt to ever-changing situations which place a premium on how quickly adaptations and responses can be made. Without a structured program or system of data governance in place, mission critical data could be compromised, underutilized, or even completely overlooked—leading to missed connections and fundraising opportunities that could stall revenue generation or potentially serious vulnerabilities that can lead to sleepless nights, audits, and potentially costly fines and legal fees.

Implementing a system of data governance from scratch can be a daunting task. Attempting to implement data governance in current circumstances may seem impossible or even unwise. However, the cost of inaction, particularly in the face of the current global crisis, may be greater than inaction; you can start by focusing efforts on building off existing materials. Perhaps there are already existing policies and procedures that need to be reevaluated given current circumstances; or maybe no such measures exist, but your organization has had initial discussions regarding data strategy and management that you can continue to build upon. Wherever you are in terms of process or scale, there are steps you can take right now to ensure that your organization is well-equipped to manage, protect, access, and analyze its most mission critical information by making data governance a top priority.

Outlined here are five critical action areas that organizations should address currently to ensure the best possible outcomes.

1. Create a Data Governance Committee whose purpose is to:

  • Provide strategic direction and alignment while creating accountability and oversight.
  • Communicate closely with key stakeholders across the organization.
  • Create a forum for the development of standard data definitions and business rules.

2. Establish documented data quality standards that:

  • Evaluate existing data and perform routine data cleansing practices.
  • Create processes for resolving data inconsistency and inaccuracy.

3. Review and define data processes:

  • Determine what information is collected and how.
  • Outline roles and responsibilities for data collection and entry.
  • Clearly define who has access to what information and in what system.

4. Develop a data storage infrastructure that:

  • Integrates with the organization’s technology ecosystem.
  • Develops an effective system for data organization, storage, and retrieval.
  • Preserves high standards of compliance.
  • Ensures accessibility and reliability.

5. Implement data security protocols that:

  • Ensure system integrity is continuously monitored.
  • Outline disaster recovery responses.
  • Mitigate threats by minimizing or eliminating system weaknesses.

The health and viability of an organization hinges on its ability to adapt in changing environments and markets. Business decisions that organizations are making now will determine their long-term ability to recover from current challenges. Establishing an overall data governance program provides organizations with the strategy and infrastructure to quickly make critical business decisions and succeed through the ups and downs of not only the present situation, but well into the future as part of an industry with continuously evolving needs, priorities, and regulations. Organizations who delay action on data governance only kick the can down the road.

BWF is currently working with clients to develop data governance programs at both small and large nonprofit organizations, as well as enhancing existing data governance efforts to support organizational growth. If you would like to learn more about developing a data governance model to suit your organization’s needs, reach out to Joelle Clemons.