Higher Education Fundraising in a Post-Pandemic World

Higher Education Fundraising in a Post-Pandemic World
July 14, 2020 Lori Stirling

As advancement professionals cautiously peek ahead, it’s no secret that higher education fundraising is not the same as it was in January.

At the beginning of the year, fundraising professionals were shaking off the holiday pause and gearing up for a bright year ahead.  Then March brought a shutdown; the shutdown came with a host of unusual financial pressures. 

For example, with Spring campus closures, some schools reimbursed students for unused housing and food expenses. Suddenly, fundraising dollars were being channeled into covering the institution for student reimbursements and sending emergency funds to students in need.

As of now, many schools are still undecided about whether or not they’ll host students on campus in the fall or wait until Spring. Other students will opt to stay closer to home and attend a second choice school rather than go further away.  Plus, International students may not be able to return this year. This could deeply affect institutions as international students often pay full tuition.

It’s incumbent upon institutions to redesign their fundraising campaigns and messaging, to remain sensitive to their constituents, and reconfigure any physical events online or postpone them.


How Have Advancement Offices Changed as a Result of the Pandemic? 

In spite of the unknowns, many fundraising efforts are going well. Institutions with a well-designed annual fund and day of giving programs are still on track. They may not be seeing as many large donations, but many people remain comfortable with giving back in smaller increments. 

On the technical side, implementations are moving forward. With new processes in place, allowing remote gift processing among many other things, fundraising professionals will be able to move fast and furiously forward when things readjust to “normal.” 

Not surprisingly, employee’s focus has been a challenge. From new daily workflows, getting used to working remotely, furloughs ranging from one day to three months, there’s been a lot of adjustment

Working remotely will change the advancement business going forward. 


How Have Daily Processes Changed? 

Work from home has been a big change, of course, regardless of the profession. For advancement professionals, who are used to performing gift processing tasks within the office and meeting with potential donors over an in-person lunch, it has been an even larger shift in perspective and processes.

For example, gift processing was always done in the office, but automation has made it an easy, smooth, and secure process to do from home. Many gift processors act as data entry. They assess the opportunities, complete a batch, send it to the manager, and they can continue to keep the gifts on track. It’s a very smooth and secure process. 

Of course, there are a lot of Zoom meetings and the first few batches likely took some getting used to, but those on Affinaquest have been able to adapt smoothly. 


How Will Major Gift Officers Connect with Donors When They Can’t Meet In Person? 

There’s a new generation of donors who connect through the internet and they’re always going to be comfortable connecting that way. For those who prefer a more traditional approach, even they’re likely to be more open to different ways of communication now. We will likely continue to see virtual reunions and other virtual events. These video reunions, lectures, and benefits give a reason for people to connect and for institutions to keep their constituents engaged. 


Has it Changed the Message to the Constituents? 

In general, fundraising messaging is still very much oriented around student life. One of the things that’s amazing about the college experience is being able to interact with people from all over the world. We have no idea how that will be affected yet as enrollments for 2021 are changing dramatically. 

One thing we do know is the campus experience will be very different when students return. The cleaning protocol of dorms, classrooms, and common areas will be highlighted and discussed in a new way. 

The other thing is that many of the things that need to be funded won’t feel as fancy. Instead of a new building, the operations budget will need to expand to reflect the new cleaning measures. For universities who haven’t allocated such operation budgets, they’re going to have to rethink their priorities. 

It’s likely that people are going to be cautious about purchasing big-ticket items and large gifts may not be common. 

As always, Affinaquest is continuing to future-proof its system. The most recent update was in June and we’re planning Release 16 in August. If you have any questions or need assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out

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