Advancement Services in the Age of Big Data

Scene: A major gift officer is showing a prospect around the office. They come into your office and ask what you do.

“Advancement services!” you announce, proudly.


“Advancement services?” replies the prospect.

“Database manager,” translates the gift officer.

Yes, databases are important to our roles as advancement services professionals. However, it’s not the reason we do what we do. Our goal isn’t to simply manipulate 1s and 0s and wear down keyboards.


Database management is a part of the process, but it’s not why we’re here. It’s easy to lose sight of the true role that we play because there are so many changes to make to ever-expanding and accessible data. But that’s what makes it an exciting time in the history of advancement services. Information is becoming more accessible and more affordable. Data is EVERYWHERE.

Instead of just being a database manager, we should be focused on:

Think of advancement services as the production facility where gathered data is turned into information. Then, that information is shipped out to its primary users.

With the pace of today’s changing data, how many staff members would you need to maintain LinkedIn employment data? Facebook data?

Now, how many more would you need to clean that data and make it consumable?

Database management will never go away. It’s a part of our DNA. But if you don’t have to maintain the data, DON’T. It’s ultimately about having access to the data, even if someone else is managing it.

More notably, if the information is aggregated from trusted sites, why even touch it? Aggregating data from LinkedIn and Facebook is like having thousands of data processors. Even better, those data processors are the foremost authorities on the people for whom they are entering information: themselves.

Advancement services should be mindful of using technology to make the lives of fundraisers easier. And yes, that also includes making the lives of advancement services professionals easier.

Download EverTrue’s Fundraiser’s Toolkit for 2015 for a primer on the best tech tools for nonprofit professionals:


Matt Gullatta is the Director of Advancement Services at Ashland University. Since becoming an Advancement Services professional in 2007, Matt has made it a personal mission to make data accessible, reliable, and fun! You can find Matt on Twitter, likely chasing down Big Data and Analytics trends or posting animated gifs.

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