Departments and the use of DARS

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Author(s) Daniel Keyworth Associate Director - Annual Programmes & DARS (University Development Office), and Alison Edwards, Head of Alumni Communications (University Alumni Office)


This document provides guidance to departments about the usage of DARS. It is recognised that some but not all departments currently engage in alumni relations and/or fundraising activity. For those which do, there are different scales of engagement, and it is a University requirement that DARS be utilised for supporting all such activity.

Overview of the data held in DARS

DARS contains data on approximately 500,000 constituents, including alumni, donors, prospects, parents, students, staff, other non-alumni, corporations, trusts, foundations and other employers. These data have been collated in a wide variety of ways, including from individuals directly, via colleges and departments, and through publicly-available sources.

Data is currently held in DARS for:

  • Around 85% of all living alumni around the worldi
  • 100% of current students, via a weekly data feed from Oxford Student Systems
  • Approximately 140,000 organisations
  • Approximately 125,000 non-alumni individuals

This includes many college donors and almost all University donors over the last 20 years.

Data are improved daily by around 450 current users and throughout the year by several further data migrations. Through the integrated web portal Oxford Alumni Online, itself a part of DARS, almost 40,000 alumni have provided direct updates online to their own data since late 2010. This number grows by around 1,000 new registrants each month. Many other records are enhanced every day through other communication channels.

DARS today includes current validated addresses for most constituents, and increasingly email addresses and/or telephone numbers as well. For many records, there are also: education details, employer information, gifts, appeal responses, contact preferences, interests, prizes, scholarships, club and society memberships, research notes, contact reports, details of previous communications, event attendances, and/or other useful biographical information.

Departmental alumni databases and spreadsheets

With effect from January 2013, it is University policyii that those departments, faculties and schools which require a system to manage their alumni relations and/or fundraising relationships with alumni, donors and prospects must utilise DARS for this purpose rather than acquiring and/or developing their own separate database or spreadsheet(s).

The University has made a significant investment in creating and developing DARS to ensure that it is a system which drives increased fundraising performance; facilitates stronger lifetime relationships; and advances Oxford as one of the best Higher Education institutions in the world in terms of the ROI, effectiveness and professionalism of its collegiate-wide development and alumni activities.

Underpinning these goals are substantial benefits to sharing data and working collaboratively with that data across departments and colleges; utilising advanced functionality within a cutting-edge system; de-duplicating data entry and standardising list values; consistent adherence of Data Protection requirements; and sharing resources such as training, support and IT infrastructure.

Alumni, too, benefit from collaborative approaches, interactions tailored to each individual’s wishes, and one-stop updating of information. For all of these reasons, it is now mandatory that any department, faculty or school active in this area uses DARS rather than an alternative database or spreadsheets. 31 departments https://www.darscentral.ox.ac.uk/participants are currently Live on the Systemiii and 22 Colleges and PPHs have migrated or are in the course of their data transfer to DARS, with others expected to join in 2014/15.

Avenues for accessing DARS

There are two different avenues for accessing DARS:

  1. The first is for those departments without any active or planned fundraising or alumni relations programmes.
  2. The second is for those departments which engage, or are seeking to engage, regularly with their alumni and/or which participate actively in raising philanthropic funds.

Departments without active development and/or alumni relations activity

Some departments without active development and/or alumni relations activity (which therefore are not DARS Participants) nonetheless desire to send out annual newsletters, occasional events invitations or other communications to alumni. This ordinarily requires assistance from the Alumni Office (UOAO) or the relevant divisional fundraising team in the Development Office (UODO).

For departments that only wish to use the data held in DARS rarely, for example to send out one annual communication, they can be given data extracted from DARS for a fixed period, upon signing a Confidentiality Agreement. This exported dataset must, however, be deleted very shortly after the communication has been sent out. Alternatively, the department may prefer to arrange for UOAO or UODO staff to send the communication on their behalf, if available to do so. Either way, it is important at the outset to determine how any data received in response to this communication will be processed into DARS.

Since 2010, the DARS Support Centre has not routinely performed data entry tasks on behalf of departments, except for updates processed through the Oxford Alumni Online web portal, via Oxford Today returns and as part of Oxford Thinking donation forms.

Thus for any data updates received, a department can either:

  • Hire one of the DARS Data Entry Assistants https://www.darscentral.ox.ac.uk/requestforms, who are available on a ‘pay-as-you-use’ basis to input these updates into DARS on their behalf; or
  • By agreement with UOAO or its divisional fundraising team in UODO (and subject to those team’s workloads), arrange for a colleague to make the updates to DARS. Subject to the volume of requests, the Support Centre may occasionally be able to assist with this process, but only where there are fewer than 50 records to update.

Departments with active development and/or alumni relations activity

For departments that wish to use data frequently for alumni relations and/or development purposes, then they should request to become a DARS Participant by contacting Martin McGovern in the University Development Office.

It is a straightforward process for departments to join DARS, particularly those which do not have any historic data to migrate across. Firstly, the departmental Head signs the DARS Memorandum of Understanding, which is also signed by the Registrar. Each user must then attend the requisite training in advance of receiving System access and sign an Individual User Agreement, which sets out that they must abide by the Relationship Management Protocols for fundraising across the collegiate University, the University’s Data Protection statement and the DARS Rules for Participation.http://www.advancingoxford.ox.ac.uk/file/darsrules.pdf

Joining DARS delivers several significant benefits, including:

  1. Ensuring that alumni updates received directly by a department can be added without delay.
  2. Providing appropriate staff within the department direct access to functionality for a wide range of alumni relations and fundraising purposes, including: contact details management; distribution of newsletters; sending of email updates and monitoring of responses; major prospect tracking (including research, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship); donation requests; events management (including registration and payment processing); analysis and identification of new opportunities for engagement; recording of proposals; financial reporting; and online engagement with alumni and friends through an integrated web portal.
  3. Shared data, which improves mutual understanding and helps each entity to develop a better appreciation of its alumni and friends. This includes more detailed pictures of significant prospects and supporters and their relationships with different parts of the University.
  4. Training and support through the DARS Helpdesk, with calls looked after by in-house fundraising and technical specialists. This DARS Support Centre /https://www.darscentral.ox.ac.uk/supportcentre promotes shared knowledge and best practice across the user community, supports cross-team activity, and assists with data monitoring. Priority customer support is also available from the software supplier, Blackbaud.
  5. Operating within a sound legal and Data Protection framework which has been rigorously assessed by the University’s Legal Services and Council Secretariat. Also, conforming to the University’s strategic desire for more robust information management and security to minimise the risk of reputational or financial damage. DARS is securely hosted by IT Services with data backed up on a daily basis so that it can easily be restored after a data loss event, and measures are taken to prevent or minimise the impact of possible damage.
  6. Delivering cost savings to departmental IT budgets, by preventing the need to support separate fully-hosted databases or outsourced web content management, email communication and email forwarding systems. DARS requires almost no ongoing maintenance from local IT. There are also significant savings in the costs of both hardware and software licences.
  7. Enabling alumni and friends to do more for themselves – e.g. update their details, state their preferences, or search for friends – without creating manual tasks for each department. It is far more efficient for everyone concerned than handling post, telephone or email updates, and results in better alumni engagement and goodwill over time.

Costs of access

There is an annual service charge https://www.darscentral.ox.ac.uk/servicecharges to all Participants for using the System, based on concurrent user numbers. Applying this service charge only to Participants prevents the need for a general increase in the overall infrastructure charge towards Development, which would otherwise apply to all departments irrespective of their levels of engagement and require annual adjustment.

For many departments, the minimum charging band for two concurrent users – set at £2,330 in 2014/15 – is sufficient.iv This covers all software licence, training and support costs, including the integrated web portal and email management tools. Functional enhancements are made centrally on a regular basis for the benefit of all Participants.

Since its inception, investment in the DARS Programme has always required funding beyond the general infrastructure charge, in part because its objectives and benefits are decidedly greater than those which accompanied the previous system, Visual Alms. Above all, DARS is a significantly value added service. Thus, whilst the Programme is heavily subsidised by UODO, it is necessary to pass some of the costs directly to those who use it and receive its benefits.

Terms of user access

Access is restricted to those individuals who have alumni relations, fundraising, events, relationship management, communications and/or finance (gift administration and accounts) as a defined part of their job, which may include academics as well as administrative staff. Users must be employees rather than volunteers, and training is a pre-requisite to any access.

All users are expected to maintain up-to-date records of constituent interaction (contact details, prospect plans, communications history, events, appeals, gift management etc) – where relevant – on DARS. This includes recording relevant details for alumni and non-alumni, including any parents and/or corporations, trusts and foundations with which the department has a relationship, to ensure that the University correctly understands its holistic relationship with these key constituencies.

DARS-trained Data Entry Assistants are available to hire for specific tasks, as an alternative to needing to train temporary staff for brief periods during spikes of activity.

One staff-member from each Participant must be nominated as its Super User https://www.darscentral.ox.ac.uk/superusers, with whom the DARS Support Centre can more closely liaise and provide updates. In addition, the relevant Head of Development within UODO for that department’s Division and/or a member of the Alumni Office is available to advise the department regarding its use of DARS. This is not a reporting line – however, the department will be responsible to this person for the appropriate use of DARS.

Data Protection

There is a responsibility to check, so far as is reasonably possible, that all details held are up to date and that clear principles are followed both in terms of the recording of data and the subsequent usage of that data for communication purposes.v We hope that alumni and friends will all benefit from interactions with those undertaking development and alumni relations across the collegiate University but it is important to ensure that their personal data are held and used appropriately.

To ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and other legislation such as the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, all colleges, faculties, departments, administrative units, and University international offices who use DARS are required to enter into a standard form Participation Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding, which sets out various requirements on all Participants in relation to use of DARS, including compliance with the obligations detailed in the DARS Rules for Participation.

It is also crucial to compliance with the DPA that individuals are aware of the holding and usage of their personal data in any system and do not object to it. For DARS Participants, this is respected by provision of the DARS Data Protection Statement https://www.alumni.ox.ac.uk/data_protection which gives the individual information relating to the permitted purpose and other relevant information about the processing of personal data in DARS, and by the individual’s rights to opt out of their data being held at any time.

Further information

Visit https://www.darscentral.ox.ac.uk/ to find out more about DARS. A summary of the benefits to joining the System and the resources available to assist all Participants are provided in FAQs at http://www.darscentral.ox.ac.uk/file/faqs.pdf.

Contact Martin McGovern (tel: 01865 611593) if you would like a demo of the Live System. We also recommend contacting departments already using DARS: an up-to-date list of all Participants is available at http://www.darscentral.ox.ac.uk/participants.

The latest version of this document can be downloaded at http://www.darscentral.ox.ac.uk/policies

UsefulInfo.jpg Note:

iThis includes 100% of alumni for around half of the colleges.
iiAs agreed by the Committee for Development and Alumni Relations, which is a Committee of University Council, in January 2013.
iii Including Oxford Medical Alumni, which services the Medical Sciences Division.
ivThese charges are agreed on an annual basis (around December of the previous year) by the DARS Oversight Board, which is chaired by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Development and External Affairs, and apply to all Participant departments and colleges.
vThe University and the applicable Participant(s) are joint “data controllers” of the personal data held.

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