Technology & Operations
BWF Services: Business Process Optimization

Data governance is to fundraising operations what mission control is to space programs.

It’s the vital core of on-the-ground operations that provides support and produces critical insights that guide activities while helping to ensure the success of the mission. While the mission criticality of data governance cannot be overstated, it remains a formidable task that must be approached methodically.

For many organizations, one of the most challenging aspects of developing a system of data governance is figuring out where to start. Deciphering what critical initial actions to take to successfully launch a program for data governance can be overwhelming and, for some organizations just starting out, it may feel a bit like embarking on a mission into outer space. When considering data governance from this perspective, a critical aspect of any “mission control” effort is measuring telemetry—simply put, determining a precise collection of measurements that allow insights into critical parameters that enable analysis. When applied in the case of fundraising operations and data governance, “telemetry” is analogous to your organization’s data inventory, audit, or assessment process.

Before the numerous policies, procedures, and protocols can be fully developed and ultimately ratified through your organization’s data governance committee, it is vital to first gain a clear and accurate understanding of your organization’s data by undertaking a comprehensive data inventory or audit. This essential initial step of performing a data inventory is one that some organizations fail to understand, thus their investment of time and effort is inadequate. Such a costly missed opportunity can lead to frustration and fatigue when attempts to establish and implement data governance initiatives at best fall short of the target or at worst completely fail to launch.

Discovering and understanding the current state of data, systems, and technology for your organization helps to pinpoint what needs to be addressed to make the most impact. Enacting a plan to carry out these improvements doesn’t have to be such a daunting task. Begin by creating an ongoing process and an open dialogue within the organization regarding the most mission-critical information that you collect or will need to collect in the future. Think in terms of if we had “x,” then we could do “y” or about the inaccuracy surrounding an “xyz” data point that prevents achieving certain fundraising or business goals, etc. These initial conversations help give shape to what data elements need the most attention. Underscoring these focused efforts around data elements should be the parallel assessment of the various systems, platforms, technologies, policies, and documentation that support the organization’s data-related efforts and initiatives.

The process of performing a data assessment or data inventory is a critical first step in developing a data governance program. While this inventory process will remain ongoing as part of such a program, it is necessary to first begin with assessing the current state of your organization’s data infrastructure and needs (e.g., data elements, policies, documentation, and technology). Below are several key elements to consider when undertaking a data inventory:

  • What types of data are collected
  • How is the data stored
  • What are the data encryption points
  • Who are the responsible parties (i.e., data owners, custodians, stewards)
  • Who has access to the data
  • How is the data managed or retained

When an organization can successfully put into practice these critical initial steps of preparing a data inventory or assessment, it’s sure to lead to green lights across the board for the future of its data governance program. In other words, “it’s go for launch.”

Data governance is becoming an increasingly salient aspect of fundraising operations and is rapidly gaining ground among top organizational priorities. BWF is currently working with clients to evaluate critical data governance needs and guide them in establishing core elements of data governance to scale at both small and large nonprofit institutions. If you would like to learn more about developing a data governance model to suit your organization’s needs, reach out to Joelle Clemons at