Survey Finds Hybrid Workplaces Now Common in Office Structures; Impacts of “Great Resignation” Among Younger Staff Continues to Create Challenges for CAOs and Advancement Professionals

April 2022 Survey of Advancement Professionals

The WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK April 2022 survey of advancement professionals is the seventh in our Advancement Moving Forward series on the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The previous six surveys in this series were conducted in April 2020, June 2020, September 2020, January 2021, May 2021 and November 2021. Details about the methodology and participating institutions are found at the end of this report.

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As the nation’s colleges, universities and independent schools continue to move further away from the height of the COVID pandemic, a new nationwide survey of educational advancement leaders on these campuses reveals they are highly confident about reaching their fundraising goals for the fiscal year.

According to the survey, 87% of CAOs (chief advancement officers) and 80% of gift/alumni relations staff report they are confident or very confident about achieving their FY22 fundraising advancement goals. In comparison to the survey conducted in May 2021, the confidence level among CAO’s has risen from 82% to 87%, while the confidence level among gift/alumni relations staff has remained at the same level.

Overall, gift/alumni officers and CAOs/senior advancement staff also share the same high levels of confidence for almost every job goal. The only significant gap is among these groups is in meeting job performance metrics with 82% of gift/alumni officers confident in meeting these goals vs. 92% of CAOs/senior advancement staff.

The survey, the seventh 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 CAOs and their senior managers has steadily grown from a low in April 2020 at twenty-four percent (24%) to over eighty-seven percent (87%) in the most recent survey.

The survey of 491 advancement professionals represented 133 educational institutions including fifteen HBCUs, ten independent schools, nine Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and one Tribal College.

Challenges of the new workplace and workforce

As industries across the business spectrum continue to grapple with the most effective way to structure their workplaces, educational institutions appear to have embraced the hybrid work model for both their teams and in their interactions with donors and supporters.

According to the latest survey, over half (54%) of gift and alumni relations officers have shifted to a hybrid schedule, and only one-third have returned to their offices fulltime. In May 2021 one in ten were working a hybrid schedule and one in ten were in the office. Eight of ten gift and alumni officers were working remotely full-time. Currently, one in two are working a hybrid schedule and one in three are in their offices full-time.

Advancement professionals continue to state a preference for working in a “hybrid” environment with two-thirds stating as such in the latest survey vs. 39% who stated as such in the September 2021 survey. In comparison, while 53% of respondents preferred working remotely mostly/all of the time in September 2020, that figure has declined to 22% in the latest survey findings. Only 12% currently prefer working in the office full-time.

Data collected in November 2021 and April 2022 suggest that the option to work a hybrid schedule has increased significantly from 63% to 85%. In addition, the percentage of offices that “strongly encourage” their staff to return to the office fulltime has decreased from 34% to 11%. Only a negligible percent are offering the choice of full-time remote work.

One issue that continues to emerge for advancement professionals are the multiple workplace challenges of the “Great Resignation,” staff turnover, and burnout.

In fact, 70% of gift/alumni relations officers and 61% of CAOs/senior staff are concerned about staff shortages and resignations. Following this concern are the related issues of burnout/uncertainty (57% and 65%) and staff moral (46% to 54%). The minority of respondents expressed more typical concerns about donor and alumni engagement or meeting metrics. Concerns about staff shortages are well-founded, as 39% of gift and alumni relations officers have considered leaving their jobs over the past two years.  However there are significant differences in the desire to leave by age. Gift and alumni relations officers between the ages of 25 and 34 years are the most likely to have considered leaving. Interest in leaving drops significantly for those between the ages of 35 and 44 and then drops again for those over age 55. These data suggest that thoughts of leaving their current jobs extends from early career to mid-career advancement professionals.

The survey suggests that interest in leaving a current job does not vary by the setting where the person is currently working. While 44% of those working remotely full-time and 37% of those working in their offices full-time have considered leaving, these differences are not statistically different. These data suggest that within the advancement field there is no relationship between work setting and the desire to leave one’s job.

When asked why they considered leaving their current jobs, the most common responses focus on problems with burnout due to increased responsibilities (33%), leadership/policies (29%), and morale (19%).  Only 13% indicated they were leaving for a better job, and six percent indicated they were leaving for personal reasons.

One lasting impact of the pandemic seems to be the methods by which advancement professionals engage with donors and supporters. The latest survey finds that in-person meetings and videoconferences are now the predominant means by which gift officers engage with donors.

According to the latest findings, 39% of gift officers report frequent use of video technology for qualification meetings, and 29% report using it for solicitation meetings. Additionally, as travel restrictions have been lifted, 38% of professionals are conducting in-person meetings to qualify donors, and 52% for solicitation meetings.

“Educational advancement professionals have navigated enormous challenges over the past several years to meet and exceed their financial performance goals,” says Karin George, Managing Principal, Washburn & McGoldrick. “We are collaborating closely with them to ensure they are able to meet these challenges while they continue to deal with internal staff and larger external economic issues.”

The WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK survey on advancement leaders was conducted online during the period March 28 – April 17, 2022, with 491 respondents representing 133 educational institutions across the nation. The institutions 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 margin of error was +/- 4.1% with a 95% confidence level.

Key Findings

Selected Verbatim Responses

On Workplace Challenges:

  • “Burnout from being asked to take on too many responsibilities from exiting colleagues with little to no financial increase or professional acknowledgement.”
  • “I am exhausted. I’ve been doing multiple jobs, and I’m tired of trying to juggle it all and manage a team that is similarly drained. Our leadership doesn’t seem to notice or care.”
  • “I’m just tired. Tired of being pushed so hard even when I always exceed my goals. Tired of new faces coming and going with greater frequency. Tired of lower salary because I’ve been loyal and spent nearly my whole career here. Tired of people who play games to get raises and title changes without actually doing more work…it goes on and on.”
  • “I did not feel valued or engaged as a staff member. My leadership did not handle change well – still doesn’t. They were resistant to moving from in-person visits/fundraising to completely virtual. I felt like numbers and meeting goals were the only priorities. I get it, we have to raise money. We also have to value and cultivate our staff AND our alumni and donors.”
  • “I’ve had to deal with a significant budget reduction, and the most frustrating part was the lack of leadership in wanting to identify how work had changed and that the strategy needed to change as well. Not updating our strategy in how our team interacts and expectations of what events for our alumni look like was frustrating and could cost us our pipeline work.”
  • Being asked to more with less. By less, I mean less staff support as many colleagues have left. And also, less time as commuting back to work wastes two hours each day by commuting, getting ready, etc. The work has not decreased accordingly. We’re actually asked to do more now that we’re coming out of the pandemic – planning more events, more follow-up, higher fundraising goals, filling in for empty roles that we’re having trouble filling.” (Gift/Alumni Relations Officer)

Shifts in Responsibilities and Engagement:

  • “Adapting to virtual opportunities with donor and alumni engagement. Responding to alumni who are far left and far right on issues they perceive to applicable to the institution. Being a “woke” institution, too liberal, too conservative etc.” (Chief Advancement Officer)
  • “Alumni interest in meaningful volunteer opportunities has risen dramatically. This is requiring the Alumni staff to be nimble, creative, and to grow the network of collaborations across campus in order to provide these volunteer outlets. This is often an ambiguous and matrixed process, which can be challenging for staff to undertake while maintaining the quality of the Alumni Engagement program. There is a heightened need for staff training in “volunteer management” as well as better utilization of technology to provide streamlined ways of deploying, educating, and supporting these volunteers.” (AVP/SENIOR)
  • “COVID reduced travel to zero and we are now encouraging staff to get back out on the road. While we were able to continue existing relationships, engaging with new prospects was difficult and there has been a decline in meaningful prospect interactions with Gift Officers.” (AVP/SENIOR)
  •  “It’s been a roller coaster and I’m tired of the word “pivot”!  Racial injustice and our nation’s attempt to do better has caused dramatic shifts in our program content and a much more intentional effort to have diverse speakers present. But the most substantial change is that I spend far more time thinking about the mental health and wellness of my staff. I must retain my team and do everything I can to ensure they are satisfied at their jobs.” (Chief Advancement Officer)
  • “Our ability to effectively cultivate entry-level and mid-level major gift prospects has been incredibly challenging. The uncertainty of the continuing pandemic, concerns about personal investments, and rising costs have all severely hampered the willingness of our alumni to engage in and advance major gift discussions. We will be in good shape for FY 2022, but I have strong concerns about FY 2023 and FY 2024.” (Chief Advancement Officer)
  • “Robust virtual programming with a content focus has engaged not only new alumni presenters but has increased program engagement as well. We will continue to pair this with strategic in person events as we begin to host events again. We are also smarter about using Zoom for donor meetings and this will continue even as we get on the road again – some donors prefer to meet this way.” (Chief Advancement Officer)
  • “The increasing importance of analytics and predictive modeling; donors are more ROI oriented as they consider their philanthropic plans.” (Chief Advancement Officer)
  • “There is considerable burnout in all levels of higher education, on the faculty, administration and with students. The pandemic helped to force many of the issues we are facing today but administration must continue to re-engage these constituents to improve our productivity-life fulfillment balance.” (Chief Advancement Officer)
  • Being able to use technology in discovery, qualification, and solicitation of prospects/donors. I would have never even considered using Zoom prior to pandemic, now from personal experience I feel it is an excellent alternative to discovery calls – no more wasted travel saving $$, time and personal time away from home. It’s been a game changer for me.” (Gift/Alumni Relations Officer)
  • “Donors are being asked to give to more and more philanthropies. Major donors want transparency in the school’s strategic plan. They no longer will give simply because they love the school. They want to see actionable items. Additionally, the years of continuing to “build” buildings is gone. Donors want to see faculty and programmatic support.“ (Gift/Alumni Relations Officer)
  • Externally, the political climate across the US has posed increasing challenges to fundraising for higher ed institutions, as many of our more conservative alumni feel that they no longer want to support their alma mater. Internally, we have lost many colleagues who have taken jobs elsewhere. This turnstile makes it difficult to meet goals. On the bright side, the pandemic has shown that there are other ways to engage donors – virtual webinars, Zoom meetings, etc. So, we are embracing new ideas.” (Gift/Alumni Relations Officer)
  • The pandemic environment has required multiple “pivots” – pivoting to virtual engagement and now pivoting back to in-person offerings. We have learned much but it’s been tremendously challenging. Additionally, we have all attempted to balance this with our personal lives and trying to keep pace on all fronts has been very challenging. Additionally, the work environment has had multiple re-alignments of departments and direct reports – I have been directly impacted multiple times – it makes one feel like one is never quite sure what might be next – there have been many surprises and little explanation for decision making in this arena. This has been challenging for many employees.” (Gift/Alumni Relations Officer)
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