As COVID-19 upended life on campuses across the nation, forcing them to close dormitories, move classes online, and cancel activities from sports to graduation, a new survey reveals that in addition to disrupting the “normal” way of life for education, it has also created unprecedented challenges for their advancement professionals.

What are the biggest challenges gift officers believe they are facing in this time of social distancing, travel bans, remote work and unstable financial markets?

According to a new survey conducted by WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK, one of the nation’s leading educational advancement consulting firms, the top three concerns among advancement officers and managers include keeping the momentum going with existing fundraising programs (sixty-seven percent); their ability to adjust strategies in a volatile economy (fifty-seven percent); and their ability to engage effectively with constituents, volunteers and donors using only virtual tools (forty-seven percent).

One-third (thirty-three percent) of respondents are concerned they will turn off donors and approximately an equal number (thirty percent) are worried about their ability to communicate effectively with constituents and donors.

Only twenty-two percent of the more than 400 advancement professionals surveyed believe they will be able to achieve their fundraising goals for this year, while forty-three percent of advancement officers and managers say they are not confident their schools will reach their fundraising goals this year. Thirty-five percent say they are somewhat confident that they will be able to achieve their goals.

The survey also revealed that among liberal arts colleges, forty-six percent of respondents believe they will not be able to achieve their fundraising goals. The percentage was even higher among Master’s level Universities, with fifty-four percent of respondents at those schools expressing their belief that they will not be able to achieve their goals.

“While our clients recognize the difficult challenges ahead, they also know how essential it is to sustain close relationships with the individuals and organizations who value deeply the role of education and research in solving society’s biggest issues,” says Karin George, Managing Principal of WASHBURN & McGOLDRICK.

“Over the past quarter century, we’ve helped independent schools, colleges and universities navigate through everything from the traumatic events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina to the Great Recession. Right now, as in other crises, our clients are focused on raising financial aid and other vital funds to support their institutions’ core mission.”

Media Inquiries: Patrick Taylor, 59Media, patricktaylor0103@gmail.com, 917-653-4785.

Key Charts



Verbatim Responses

On the challenges in outreach

“How do we continue to connect alumni to their alma mater without pushing fundraising objectives in ways that seem tone-deaf?” (Liberal Arts college)

“How do we to encourage donors to still give when their portfolios are tanked, and their employment future is uncertain?” (Doctoral university)

“How can anyone operate in the current climate? It’s never happened before…. not to this magnitude” (Doctoral university)

“I’m frightened, but hopeful.” (Doctoral university)

“Habitat for Humanity, Person to Person, Boys and Girls Clubs… they have a lot of people’s attention right now. Donors don’t realize not all universities are well funded, that endowments will take a hit, refunds will be given, and financial aid will increase. How can we make that equally compelling argument for higher education?” (Liberal Arts college)

On how their individual institutions development programs and activities are changing

“Thoughtful virtual engagement at this time will deepen some relationships and lead to stronger relationships in the future” (Liberal Arts college)

“I have been amazed at the amount of information-sharing and community building throughout the development profession during this crisis.” (Doctoral university)

“I think the role of advancement and how we communicate with our donors is going to radically shift after COVID-19 passes. I think there is going to be a lot less engagement with in-person meetings, and a lot more focus on what we can do from a digital and teleconferencing perspective.” (Doctoral university)

“Information sharing from leadership and among colleagues is critical during this time to ensure we are all singing from the same sheet of music and sharing best practices as we navigate this new world together.” (Doctoral university)

“It is interesting that it is not only our environment that has changed since working remotely, but the entire breadth of our work. All of our content disseminated to our donors and alumni has some mention of COVID-19, so it is essential that we stay informed and engaged with the global/national conversation in a way like never before.” (Public university)

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