Survey Finds Significant Drop in Confidence Among Institutional Advancement Professionals in Ability to Achieve Goals; Staffing Challenges, Burnout, Low Morale, Economy Fuel Concerns

Despite Obstacles, Advancement Professionals Remain Confident in Ability to Meet Institutional Priorities and Job Metrics; Balance Work/Life Responsibilities

December 2022 Survey of Advancement Professionals

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

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As the nation’s colleges and universities return to campus, a new survey finds a significant drop in confidence among these institutions advancement leaders in achieving their goals for the fiscal year ahead.

The survey, the eighth 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 dropped significantly in the past six months.

According to the latest Advancement Moving Forward findings, while a majority 68% of gift/alumni officers and 67% of CAO/senior advancement officers are confident of achieving their FY ’23 advancement goals, this level of confidence had declined nearly 20 percentage points among CAO/senior advancement officers since the previous survey conducted in April. This drop counters a trend of generally rising confidence dating back to June 2020 when the survey was first conducted.

Analysis of the survey respondents reveals that key among the critical challenges facing both gift/alumni officers and senior advancement leaders is their ability to attract, retain and fully staff their departments. The survey finds that 71% of CAOs/senior advancement staff and 62% of gift/alumni relations officers state that staff shortages and resignations are a major challenge going forward. Among other top challenges are burnout/uncertainty (55% for leadership and 56% for officers) and staff morale (47% for leadership, and 45% for officers).

When you combine the challenges advancement leaders are facing with keeping their staff motivated and engaged along with external factors including the ongoing economic uncertainty, it is not surprising that there is a growing lack of confidence in their ability to achieve their goals,” says Karin George, Managing Principal, WASHBURN & MCGOLDRICK. “The larger concern for the institutions they serve is just how significantly their confidence has declined in such a short period of time.”

Despite these concerns, only a third of respondents indicated that energy/motivation and engaging constituents are challenges going forward. In addition, a relatively small number of respondents indicated that meeting metrics is a challenge. These three categories, taken together, suggest large majorities of advancement professionals feel motivated, and are less concerned about their ability to engage constituents or meet their metrics.

In fact, more than three-quarters of all advancement professionals surveyed feel confident in their ability to make the case for institutional priorities, meet job performance metrics, and handle both home and work responsibilities. However, confidence does decline gradually for those skills directly related to broader advancement outcomes including building a pipeline of prospective donors and increasing fundraising or engagement momentum.

Among the survey’s key highlights include:

  • A clear majority (59%) of respondents are working a hybrid schedule. It is by far the most common schedule arrangement when compared to working full-time in either the office or remotely. In the 18 months between May 2021 and December 2022, the percentage of gift/alumni relations officers working a hybrid schedule has increased 49% from 10% to 59%.
  • The majority of gift and alumni relations officers would look for a new job if required to return to full-time office work. In fact, 92% of full-time remote workers and 57% of hybrid-schedule workers would be likely to look for another job if working full-time in an office was required.
  • The greatest risk is losing the nearly 60% of the hybrid workers who represent 59% of all gift and alumni officers. While there is still a risk of losing 92% of the full-time remote workers, they represent only 8% of the advancement workforce.
  • There has been a sharp return to in-person qualification (53%) and solicitation (72%) meetings, as advancement professionals shift away from video conferencing and phone calls. Currently, over half of the qualification meetings and nearly three-quarters of all solicitation meetings are in-person.

“Educational advancement professionals have clearly been impacted by the workforce and economic challenges of the past year,” says Karin George“We are collaborating closely with them to ensure they are able to meet and exceed their professional and institutional goals.”

The WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK survey on advancement leaders was conducted online during the period December 5 – 24, 2022, with 423 respondents representing 126 educational institutions across the nation. The institutions surveyed ranged in size from small private liberal arts colleges to independent schools to state and private universities offering masters and doctoral degrees. The margin of error was +/- 4.4% with a 95% confidence level.

Key Findings

Selected Verbatim Responses


  • “Continued staff resignations, fighting to hire & train new staff at competitive salaries with flat operating budgets.”
  • “We will be looking at how many ‘additional, non-core, responsibilities’ have been placed on different roles and how to decouple those extraneous duties. The roles in the next calendar year should be more advancement-focused than they are now, with many of the administrative duties that were taken on over the past three years removed.”


  • “The economic uncertainty looms large in the minds of many donors and will certainly impact our ability to move significant gifts along.”
  • “Recession will have an impact. Increased costs of travel, events, catering, etc. Possible downturn in giving. Expectations that we continue to engage virtually and in person with the same amount of staff.”
  • “Waning donor confidence in financial markets will stress fundraising progress.”


  • Leadership changes at the university. We will be getting a new president/provost, which results in a large amount of ‘trickle down’ executive turnover.”
  • “Our president just announced her departure, and we are less than a year away from completing our campaign. Managing that transition and its impact on the final campaign push is a challenge. And thinking about the next campaign and cultivating the next round of major gift and leadership donors is top of mind.”


  • I am reaching a threshold of what I can do without additional support. Impact as yet unclear.”
  • “Telecommuting and hybrid work has become an expectation and a new norm.”
  • “Possibility of no longer working hybrid schedule.”

New Goals

  • Much more pressure to secure large gifts.”
  • “Much more qualifying prospects as our main major and planned gift pool is becoming exhausted.”
  • “Managing expectations in a hybrid world—both those of staff and our constituents.”
  • Connecting more with young alumni and bridging the generational gap of giving back.”

Professional Growth

  • Developing effective communication strategies to engage alumni and solve the pressing financial needs of the college having just completed an 8-year campaign.”
  • “Hoping to work more of a hybrid model. This will be beneficial for time management and focus on work ahead.”


  • “Restructuring my team as I fill the open position I have and redistribute duties to match individual skill sets. I may offload some of my ‘taskier’ items in order to lead more effectively.”
  • “I don’t know how to fix it, but I am wildly burned out.”
  • “The new approach to work across generations, hybrids, etc…”

Return to Normalcy

  • The expectation to pre-pandemic travel metrics. Meaningful engagement needs to be something that matters in our performance. Advancement tends to not want to change the way in which work is evaluated. Gifts are not closed without connecting with donors in ways that are meaningful to them—this is not always a visit.”
  • “Reengaging alumni in a post-COVID world. It has not been the same and although folks say they want events and engagement opportunities, they aren’t necessarily showing up like they used to.”
  • “Continuing to adjust to an evolving new normal, particularly with the economic challenges faced by most Americans (including high net worth individuals).”

Staff Turnover

  • Frequent turnover of more junior staff leading to more of my time on searches than ever before.”
  • “Securing enough staff members to execute on our work plans successfully without burning out current staff more than they’ve already been burnt.”
  • “Continuing to drive results with substantially fewer frontline fundraisers and productivity continuing to decline with our work-from-home policy (up to 2 days at home/week).”

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