Focus on Fundraising Fears

The pandemic may could cause a fundraising drop of 30 percent.

BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC, higher education fundraising is poised for a dramatic drop that could rival decreases seen during the Great Recession, according to education firm EAB. For its report “What 110 Advancement Leaders Think Lies Ahead for University Fundraising During COVID-19,” the organization surveyed 110 university fundraising professionals. It found that more than 40 percent are projecting declines of at least 10 percent for fiscal year 2020, and about 20 percent expect declines of 20 percent.


Projections for fiscal year 2021 are even more pessimistic, with nearly 45 percent of institutions anticipating double-digit declines and a growing percentage of schools projecting a decline of at least 30 percent compared to 2019 totals. The problem is further compounded by fears of steep declines in endowment investment performance.


A separate EAB analysis of historical fundraising performance at nearly 1,100 institutions showed that during the Great Recession, many saw the most significant losses from their biggest donors. Likewise, EAB’s current analysis shows that most colleges and universities are bracing for big declines from their wealthiest supporters. Many senior advancement professionals today expect to see declines of anywhere from 20 percent to more than 30 percent in individual gifts of more than US$1 million.


“Large gifts are inherently volatile,” points out Jeff Martin, senior director of EAB. “A single donor changing his or her mind about a big gift is enough to deal a crippling blow to overall fundraising production, especially as schools have come to rely on the top of the pyramid more.”


Travel restrictions and social-distancing protocols also have had an impact by eliminating campus visits, a tactic commonly used by fundraisers to inspire potential donors.

While the pandemic’s impact on fundraising could last a long time, Martin notes that development professionals can take several steps to mitigate the effects. These include reducing operating costs, demonstrating the tangible impact from donations, and incorporating more virtual interactions with prospective donors.