A moment with: Olivia Cowling

Photo of Olivia Cowling.

Olivia Cowling joined CommonSpirit Health’s national philanthropy team in 2022 and serves as Philanthropy Data Analyst, working primarily with the ministry’s local foundations in Texas and Kentucky.

A native of Syracuse, New York, Olivia received both her Bachelor’s degree in art history and her Master’s in arts administration leadership from Syracuse University. Health care philanthropy, however, pulled at her spirit.

Philanthropy is …
Philanthropy to me is about empathy. It is about recognizing that there is a need in the community and whether that need affects you directly or … a lot of times it doesn’t … it’s the ability to ask yourself, “What can I do to help this situation?”

Tell us about your background and how you came to CommonSpirit.
I usually tell people that my Master’s degree is really similar to a business degree, like an MBA. I took the same classes as a lot of the MBA students, but our focus was really on nonprofits and specifically arts organizations. At the end of my Master's, I interned at the Seattle Art Museum and was working with operations and development as they were getting ready for a big fundraising gala. I was helping with that and was really interested. We had talked a lot about fundraising and development in my courses, and now I was experiencing it. I started thinking it was the work I wanted to get into.

When I got back to Syracuse after my internship, I accepted a position at a foundation supporting a major hospital in the area. I did something similar to what I do now, which is a lot of database management. I ended up really liking health care and wanted to continue doing this in my career. After a lot of turnover, and talks of a potential merger, I started looking for a new job and found this position [with CommonSpirit].

Can you tell us about your current role?
I would say my role is really about supporting our local foundations with standardization and process efficiency and helping them to be able to make data-driven decisions to enhance their fundraising. As a Philanthropy Data Analyst with the national philanthropy shared services team, I work mainly with the Texas and Kentucky foundations on all things data-related. That includes gift processing and recording, donor acknowledgement letters, building data queries, creating marketing efforts and anything else data-driven. Recently, I’ve been working with them on their data conversions to CommonSpirit’s DREAM database. It’s been a big undertaking … exciting, stressful … all the emotions! But it’s going to be rewarding. 

How do you see your work fulfilling the larger mission of CommonSpirit Health?
My role plays into the larger mission because we’re using data to connect potential donors to important causes they care about. All of the work that I’m doing with data, all of the query building and segmenting mailings and all of that … it's playing a role in helping raise funds for local foundations to give them the ability to buy life-saving equipment, build new state-of-the-art facilities and continue to innovate and adapt within the field of health care. 
Is there a specific project that stands out to you?
Definitely the [database] conversion project. I feel comfortable in the Raiser’s Edge database and consider myself a “super user" but helping these foundations move into the DREAM database has been a challenge for me. Not only am I still getting used to working at CommonSpirit and the data standards and best practices here, but now I’m learning a whole new system. I’m learning something new every single day and that’s exciting to me. The whole process has been a really good learning experience and it is rewarding to see the new things we can do in DREAM to help the foundations.
What inspires you?
I work from home. I’m in the back end of everything doing behind the scenes data stuff. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that I do play a role in raising funds and affecting communities. I live in New York, so I’m not even in a CommonSpirit state but I think it is cool that I am helping regions and communities of people all over the United States. It’s inspiring to me to remember that this work does impact people. 

When I’m processing gifts, at least once a week I’ll see a note with a donation that says “Thank you for saving my life” or “I’m so grateful for the doctors and nurses.” It’s those reminders that my work does have an impact on people, even if I’m a tiny part in the grand scheme of it all, that are so meaningful. That’s very, very cool.

What have you learned through your work?
Something that’s hard, and is sometimes easy to forget, is that the world is still a good place, and there are still people who want to help each other despite everything that's going on. Sometimes it feels damning to watch the news or read the newspaper, but I see it every day when I'm processing donations and see the notes from donors and patients who are so grateful for the help they received. The world is a good place and there are always good people looking to help, who are willing to donate their time and money to people they may not even know.
As a child, what did you dream of being when you grew up?
I was obsessed with animals. I grew up horseback riding and I wanted to be an equine veterinarian. I realized that I’m terrible at science and that probably wasn’t going to pan out. I also feel like emotionally it would be very difficult for me not to take that work home with me.
And now, if you weren't doing this, what would be your dream job?
If money was no object and I could do anything, I would probably have a little hobby farm, collecting the homeless animals in my area. That would be kind of a dream job … though not really a “job” because you’re not going to make any money doing that!

What would others be surprised to learn about you?
At the beginning of the pandemic, we bought a house on a golf course and
it needed to be completely renovated. We gutted every single room during COVID while living in the house and while working remotely. We did all the work ourselves and because we live on the golf course, we both have gotten really into golf. We actually turned our garage into a golf simulator and we can go out there to practice. We live on the fourth hole and there have been times we’ll sneak down after work and just play one hole. The most surprising bit about this story is that we play a lot of golf but we’re both absolutely horrible! I’m so bad, but it's fun.

What does relaxation look like for you?
Sometimes it's hard to come by. I'm obsessed with my cat, so we can start there. I like hanging out with her and playing with her. It’s to the point where she has an Instagram and a TikTok account. It’s that level of obsession.

I like to read books. I have that art degree, so I like to craft, and I've definitely been known to just sit on the couch and color in a coloring book.

My boyfriend also works remotely and we love to travel while we're working. We'll work from a hotel. Sometimes it's just nice to be working from a different location and go out for dinner or see the city. We try to do that a couple of times a year.