New Survey Reveals Economic Concerns Among Donors May Impact Ability of Advancement Leaders to Reach Their Fundraising Goals for Current Fiscal Year

Despite Concerns, Majority Remain Confident About Reaching Goals; Level of Confidence Dropped Over Previous Two Years

June 2023 Survey of Advancement Professionals

The WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK June 2023 survey of advancement professionals is the ninth in our Advancement Moving Forward series. The previous seven surveys in this series were conducted in April 2020, June 2020, September 2020, January 2021, May 2021, November 2021, April 2022, and December 2022. Details about the methodology and participating institutions are found at the end of this report.

View as PDF

As the nation’s independent schools, colleges and universities prepare to welcome students to campus for the fall, a new survey finds rising concerns among these institution’s advancement leaders in their ability to achieve their financial goals for fiscal year.

The Advancement Moving Forward survey, the ninth in a series conducted by WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK, one of the nation’s leading educational and institutional advancement consulting firms, finds that while a majority of educational CAOs (78%) and their senior managers (66%) are confident they will achieve their fiscal year goals, there is significant concern among the CAO group regarding the impact that the economy will have on their outreach among donors.

In fact, among the CAO group, 69% note an increase in prospects/donors concerns about the economy in their conversations with them as potentially impacting their support for educational institutions compared to 26% who have not seen any change in concerns about the economy. This rising level of concern is significant since the CAO group primarily engages with donors and prospects who are more likely to give at higher levels of support.

The larger economic uncertainty is also reflected in the survey findings regarding total private support for educational institutions. According to the findings, growth in total private support (TPS) was uneven across institutions between FY 22 and FY 23 with forty-nine percent (49%) of institutions reporting positive growth, while 47% reported negative growth.

In the coming fiscal year, half of responding institutions are planning for no change or negative change in total private support. Overall, (49%) of institutions have planned for positive growth, (15%) have planned to remain even, and more than a third (37%) have planned for a decrease in TPS.

“The uncertainty of the economy continues to weigh on the minds of donors as they consider their support of educational institutions,” says Karin George, Managing Principal, WASHBURN & MCGOLDRICK. “These concerns along with ongoing issues such as staff turnover and burnout continue to impact the ability of educational advancement leaders and their teams to achieve their goals.”

She notes for example that while there was an increase of ten points from the most recent survey in December from (68%) to (78%) among the CAO group in their confidence in their achieving their financial goals, there was basically no change among the levels of confidence (66%) among the gift and alumni relations officer groups. In fact, there has been a drop in confidence among both groups since April of last year, when both (87%) of CAOs and (80%) of gift/alumni relations officers were confident in achieving their goals.

Among the survey’s key highlights:

  • Staffing issues remain a top concern for advancement professionals. Currently, 52% responded that staff shortages and resignations will be a major challenge going forward. Related issues ranking second and third are burnout/uncertainty (42%) and staff morale (37%).
  • Only a quarter of respondents indicated that energy/motivation and engaging constituents are challenges moving forward. In addition, only (20%) of respondents say that meeting metrics is a challenge.
  • Hybrid work settings have become the norm for advancement professionals. The survey finds that (67%) of respondents are in a hybrid work schedule, the highest level yet recorded. It is by far the most common schedule arrangement when compared to working full-time in either the office (28%) or remotely (4%). In fact, more than two-thirds (70%) of gift and alumni relations officers indicate that they prefer a hybrid work schedule.
  • In the two years between May 2021 and June 2023, the percentage of gift/alumni relations officers working a hybrid schedule has increased 57 points from (10%) to (67%).
  • A majority (58%) of gift and alumni relations officers would look for a new job if they were required to return to full-time office work. This suggests that requiring remote or hybrid staff to give up their current work setting would exacerbate ongoing staff challenges for advancement offices.
  • There has been a sustained return to in person (64%) and solicitation (77%) meetings by advancement professionals as they continue to shift away from remote engagement such as phone or video conferencing.
  • Advancement teams and leaders continue to make changes related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) issues. In fact, 42% of CAOs/senior staff say they have provided training for DEIB issues, and (40%) say they have enhanced support for DEIB.
  • A clear majority of advancement leaders state their institution has given adequate emphasis to DEIB issues. Eighty-three percent (83%) say there is adequate institutional support; (79%) feel there is adequate institutional commitment; and (77%) believe there is adequate emphasis on acting proactively.
  • Similarly, a majority (71%) of advancement leaders believe their institution has effectively made changes to protect advancement staff from harassment or discrimination, along with (70%) who feel effective changes have been made in recruiting and hiring.
  • However, while half of respondents believe their institution has made changes in gift acceptance policies, and (55%) say their institution has effectively made changes to develop a more diverse prospect pool, there is clearly room for greater growth in these areas of DEIB.

The WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK survey on advancement leaders was conducted online during the period May 22 – June 11, 2023, with 348 respondents representing 121 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 +/- 4.9% with a 95% confidence level.

Key Findings

Selected Verbatim Responses


  • “The impact market volatility will have on campaign gift asks.”
  • “Building a new pipeline while the economy is facing high inflation and uncertainty of rebound timing. It will be more difficult to secure major gifts with my current pool as housing, transportation and food costs continue to rise.”
  • “Response to potential economic crisis, donors wanting to wait and see.”


  • “The largest change would occur if we were fully staffed next fiscal year. It would have an impact on fundraising and staff morale.”
  • “Hopefully we’ll be successful in filling vacant positions, thereby alleviating oversized workloads on many staff, me included.”
  • “Less volume due to finally being fully staffed since 3 years ago.”
  • “Being fully staffed and therefore more strategic and proactive, versus short-staffed and reactive.”


  • “I anticipate more pressure to close gifts and less emphasis on following the donor’s timeline. Also, there will be more emphasis on unit advancement staff urging donors to support cross-disciplinary campus programs rather than unit-specific priorities.”
  • “Leadership seems likely to place more pressure on us to get more results in terms of dollars, donors and visits, yet has no plans to increase our resources. So, I suspect my work will become more difficult and lead to more burnout.”
  • “Moving to an organization with fair and well-developed metrics.”


  • “New dean, new university wide strategic plan, restructuring advancement office to align with strategic plan and prep for new campaign.”
  • “New Leadership structure in Advancement and unknown management styles. The most recent candidate pool has not been promising. Based on my observations, leadership in higher education need more people focused coaching on how to understand employees, motivate them and drive performance. We should take a page from the private sector to learn. As Zig Ziglar said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Sadly, this is not understood at my institution.”

Managing Change

  • “Change will remain constant, and our institution is not prepared to create proactive plans and ideas rather than simply always responding. In part because our campus is tired. In particular, leadership changes but also external forces.”
  • “Challenges to higher education, especially in the media with a presidential election cycle. Managing the message about the institution and its path forward with population decreases in the Northeast.”

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

Contact Information