Meghan Brogdon is communications specialist at CASE.
Once upon a time, there was a professional association for people advancing education throughout the world called CASE. Among its members are hundreds and hundreds of people who call themselves advancement services professionals. Included in their many important responsibilities: using, managing and optimizing data on alumni, students, prospective students, donors and others with whom their institutions interact.
Given how rapidly this field is evolving, and in order to better serve these professionals, CASE this year began managing the DRIVE/ Conference, which was expertly conceived by Chris Sorensen and his colleagues at the University of Washington in 2011. Last week, nearly 300 data professionals from higher education institutions, nonprofits and foundations gathered for DRIVE/ in Bellevue, Washington. The two-day gathering featured insightful presentations and conversations surrounding the emerging importance of data and how we, as professionals advancing education, can leverage this knowledge with our goals and vision.
My reason for borrowing the “once upon a time” theme is to underscore a central point of the entire conference: sharing data through stories. It’s simply not enough to show numbers; we must engage our audience with data through stories.
Opening keynote speaker Talithia Williams, an associate professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, challenged professionals to ask questions about the data they collect. What difference do the data make? What stories do your data tell? Why should anyone care?
These questions were reiterated throughout the conference. Kate L. Harrison, a branding and content marketing expert, shared a compelling thought during her session: Stories are more memorable than data—so much that, in fact, only five percent of people will remember data you present to them, but 53 percent will remember the story, she said.
The next day, opening keynote speaker Alexandra Samuel, an independent technology researcher, strategist and writer, grabbed the audience’s attention with this call: move away from thinking about data as yours to understand; instead, think of data as yours to share.
By following their advice, we can capture attention and even collect more important data that are vital to the success of our missions. After all, what matters isn’t the data. What matters is what you do with those numbers.