Your institution went global. What about your systems?

Over the last 17 years, working both in higher ed and as a consultant, I have watched with great interest as academic institutions scaled up their international recruitment, alumni, and fundraising efforts. These activities have resulted in a fascinating diversity on campus and among groups of alumni. They also have created a set of administrative problems for which many institutions were not prepared.

My clients and I often start out talking about their international prospect research needs, but these conversations regularly shift to frustrating internal systems that have not kept up with the global outreach efforts of their institutions.  Here are some common complaints I hear:

We don’t have the correct names for students and alumni in our databases, especially when it comes to those who live in Asia. Someone on campus probably has this information (an admissions officer? an alumni event planner?), but we can’t tell who that might be.

We lack updated addresses for our global alumni. Rumor has it that Department [fill in the blank] has collected this information but won’t share it.

Our database isn’t set up to handle international information. We can’t store international addresses accurately, so we squish them into the available database fields, a process that is far from perfect.

Our database professionals have no way of knowing when international information is incomplete or formatted incorrectly.

Even if we come up with a workaround that lets us enter something into our database, we can’t output addresses that can be mapped accurately for planning alumni events or fundraising trips.

An address formatted for international mailing may be useless to our prospect researchers.

We have no idea how much money we are losing each year to misdirected or inaccurately addressed mailings. Should we even bother sending these materials abroad?

Accepting wired donations takes forever through our institution’s bank. But what’s the alternative?

Should we have a foundation outside the United States to collect international gifts? If so, where? When does that make sense? Are there places where international donors could benefit from tax incentives if we had this arrangement?

Should we set up international fundraising offices in other parts of the world, or can we do everything from campus?

Do any of these complaints sound familiar? Has your institution started working on solutions to these operational challenges?

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