New Survey Reveals Education Advancement Leaders Highly Confident in Reaching Their Fundraising Goals

May 2021 Survey of Advancement Professionals

The WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK May 2021 survey of advancement professionals is the fifth in our Advancement Moving Forward series on the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The previous four surveys in this series were conducted in April 2020, June 2020, September 2020 and January 2021. Details about the methodology and participating institutions are found at the end of this report.

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DEIB and Academic Program Support Increase Significantly as Fundraising Priorities for FY 22; Educational Advance Leaders Expect Hybrid Engagement Model to Continue Post Pandemic

A year after the Covid-19 outbreak and social justice issues began to permanently alter the education landscape, a new survey finds that educational advancement professionals are feeling extremely confident about reaching their fundraising goals for the current fiscal year, and are focused on increasing support for a number of critical areas including DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) and academic programming among others.

According to the survey findings, a vast majority of educational advancement professionals (81%) say they are confident that they will be able to achieve their current fundraising goals. This level of confidence is now almost equally shared by both Advancement Leaders (VPs, CAOs, AVPs), (82%) and Major Gift/Alumni Officers with (80%) stating as such.

The survey, the fifth in a series conducted by WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK, one of the nation’s leading educational and institutional advancement consulting firms, finds that the confidence level among educational advancement leaders has steadily grown from a low in June of last year at seventeen-percent (17%) to over eighty-one percent (81%) in the most recent survey.

This growth reflects a strong increase in the level of confidence among gift and alumni Officers, which has increased from 39% in the September survey to 82% in the most recent findings.

The survey of 461 advancement professionals represented 103 educational institutions including seven HBCUs and 13 independent schools. Chief advancement officers (CAOs) anticipate that their top fundraising priorities will remain generally unchanged in FY22 compared to FY21 with financial aid, annual unrestricted operating support, and endowment as the top three priorities.

Among likely FY22 priorities, emphasis on fundraising for academic programs and initiatives related to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) has increased significantly compared to FY21, with 52% of CAOs reporting DEIB initiatives as a priority, compared to 42% in FY21, and 57% of CAOs noting academic programs as a priority, up from 45% in FY21. Capital projects also continued to return as priorities for more institutions compared to FY20 and FY21.

As educational institutions expand DEIB as a fundraising priority, the majority of survey respondents perceive that overall, their institutions are doing an “adequate job” responding to a variety of DEIB related issues. However, a sizeable percentage do not believe their institutions are committing enough financial resources (37%), providing adequate training (31%), clear messaging (30%), and acting proactively (29%).

CAOs are significantly more likely to indicate their institutions’ proactive actions (85%) and crises responses are adequate (88%), compared to other advancement staff. Thirty-nine percent of senior staff and 29% of gift/alumni relations officers indicate their institutions are not doing enough in terms of acting proactively. Ten percent think their institutions do too much when responding to crises related to DEIB issues.

A majority of educational advancement leaders believe there is a greater need for training and resources to prepare them for discussing and handling DEIB issues both internally and externally. For example, sixty-two percent of gift/alumni relations officers state they are not fully comfortable talking about DEIB issues with the leadership of their institutions. In addition, seventy-three percent (73%) of senior staff and 68% of gift/alumni relations officers report they are not fully comfortable talking to Board members about DEIB issues.

Even more striking is the perceived lack of comfort among educational advancement leaders in talking about DEIB issues with external audiences such as volunteers, donors, alumni, and parents. Nearly seven out of ten gift/alumni relations officers say they are only somewhat comfortable or need to work on their abilities to talk about DEIB issues with external audiences. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of CAOs report they are only somewhat comfortable or need to work on their skills in this area when speaking with donors.

As educational advancement leaders deepen their engagement with both internal and external audiences on DEIB related issues and seek to grow support for programs in these areas, there is clearly a demand for an increase in resources, training and communications to help them,” says Karin George, Managing Principal, WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK. “We continue to focus on ways to work with them to help them achieve their overall fundraising and development goals in these and other critical areas.”

A Hybrid Work Model

As with many industries, educational advancement leaders are gradually beginning a return to working in their offices. However, the survey finds that there is a disparity between CAOs and both their senior management team and their gift/alumni officers, not only in their return to work preferences, but also in how they envision the workplace to operate moving forward.

According to the survey, forty percent (40%) of CAOs report they are already working in the office “most of the time,” versus sixteen percent (16%) of gift/alumni officers who state as such.

When asked where they would prefer working, if given a choice, there is a clear gap between CAOs and both their senior staff and their gift/alumni relations officers. CAOs lean toward working in the office (60%), while senior staff (40%) lean towards splitting their time and gift/alumni relations officers (44%) lean toward remote work.

Interestingly, the movement away from remote work does not mean advancement professionals prefer to work solely in the office. Between 35% and 40% of advancement professionals at all three levels hope to split their time between remote and office work, although only nine percent to 12% of advancement professionals are currently splitting their time.

Reinforcing the interest in split time work environments, each of the three levels of advancement professionals concur that they expect to see a hybrid approach in the upcoming year. While the majority of CAOs indicated meetings with Board members, alumni and donors could be conducted with a hybrid approach, they are less likely than others to expect to use this approach. For example, eighty-six percent (86%) of senior staff expect a hybrid approach for donor meetings, compared to 63% of CAOs who expect to use this approach.

The WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK survey on advancement leaders was conducted online during the period of April 19 – May 5, 2021 with 461 respondents representing 103 institutions across the nation. The schools surveyed ranged in size from small private liberal arts colleges to independent schools and institutions to state and private universities offering masters and doctoral degrees, including seven HBCUs. The margin of error was +/- 3.9% with a 95% confidence level.

Key Findings

Selected Verbatim Responses

Hybrid Workplace — Enhancements

“Virtual events allowed us to engage constituents in more distant locations. Some have said they have never felt more engaged. We were creative about acknowledging staff and creating community virtually — and a few drive-by events — which helped keep staff happy and motivated them to stay focused on goals.” (CAO)

“Virtual events created new value for events in general. We engaged more prospects than ever and leveraged the event recordings to extend the value of each event by sharing it with prospects who could not attend live. The content was also more relevant to the audience because we solicited questions for every virtual event in advance via the registration website.” (CAO)

“The flexibility of working remotely helped to balance needs at home and allowed me to implement some different time management techniques. In addition, virtual events provided an opportunity for some more intimate calls with key stakeholders which helped to build key donor relationships.”(Senior staff)

“It was much easier to connect with prospects outside of our defined territories (nationally and internationally) in addition to hard-to-reach prospects thanks to zoom and teams. We have been able to connect alumni with other alumni, students, faculty and leadership in much more streamlined and inexpensive manner.” (Gift/alumni relations officer)

“Much more flexibility about defining a visit. Recognizing that making a move with a donor has nothing to do with whether you are in person, but rather did the person get closer to a gift, to the organization, etc. We are closing one of the top five years in fundraising at our institution and less than 5% of our visits were in person.” (Gift/alumni relations officer)

“Online advancement training programs.  More encouragement to get things done, but without the ‘looking over your shoulder, micro-management all the time’ pressure since we were working from home. Leadership was more flexible and reasonable in understanding the life/work balance that was necessary over this past year. It’s paid off for me, my team, our college, and throughout all of University Advancement. Our numbers are up.” (Gift/alumni relations officer)

“Better dashboards, better tools/vehicles to use in advancement, strong engagement with donors virtually.” (Gift/alumni relations officer)

Hybrid Workplace — Drawbacks

“Inability to host donors on campus or meet with them off campus limited our ability to build the donor pipeline. They were the right decisions at the time, but almost certainly will have an impact.” (CAO)

“Increased siloing of department areas – less opportunity to bump into colleagues from other areas and gather important information.”(Senior staff)

“My institution adopted a level of micromanagement that made it nearly impossible to manage working from home with a family at home.”(Gift/alumni relations officer)

“My employer, a leading university, does not intend to allow remote work to continue when we’re able to work in the office again, or accommodate flexible work schedules. This traditional way of thinking is always causing an issue with morale and employee engagement and recruitment.”(Gift/alumni relations officer)

“The hyper focus on metrics, including the addition of extra reports so leadership could check to make sure that we were actually doing our work, was not helpful.”(Gift/alumni relations officer)


The WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK survey on advancement leaders was conducted online during the period of April 19 – May 5 with 461 respondents representing 103 institutions across the nation. The schools surveyed ranged in size from small private liberal arts colleges to independent schools and institutions to state and private universities offering masters and doctoral degrees. The sample also included seven HBCUs. The margin of error was +/- 3.9% with a 95% confidence level.

Individuals interested in receiving a copy of the report and a full list of participating institutions should visit our website at (link).

Participating Institutions

Media Inquiries: Patrick Taylor, 59Media,, (917) 653-4785.

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