More than 40% of college fundraisers in a new survey are not confident they'll make their goals this fiscal year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
At liberal arts colleges, nearly half of fundraising professionals aren't sure they'll meet their benchmarks, the report from consulting firm Washburn & McGoldrick found.
The coronavirus has thrown institutions' budgets into turmoil and many administrators fear the economic impact it will have on donors as well as students and their families.
Higher education rolled into 2020 on a fundraising high, with large public and private colleges piling on massive campaigns. Even some smaller schools netted big donations. Institutions were relying on donors to fill in where state funding cuts and tuition discounts had left a gap. Then came the coronavirus.
Colleges did not stop fundraising after the virus was detected in the U.S., but many pivoted their focus from existing campaigns to raising money for students whom the virus has affected.
A large number of institutions already sponsor emergency aid programs and maintain funds that are passed on as grants to needy students. Fundraisers tapped their alumni and donors to help add to these pots of money as the virus spread throughout the country.
Students affected by the coronavirus are also eligible to receive more than $6 billion in federal aid that would be distributed by colleges, though the U.S. Department of Education has so far released only a fraction of it. On Tuesday, the department announced another $6 billion in aid had been released, in this case for colleges to cover their own costs.
Institutions have been highly creative with their recent fundraising efforts to help students, Linda Durant, vice president of development at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), told Education Dive.
Durant said she's heard of colleges having scholarship recipients — or in a few cases, members of the governing board or the university president — phoning major donors to thank them for past gifts. Maintaining a personal connection with donors is important right now to encourage them to continue giving, she said.
But the recent survey, which included answers from more than 400 fundraising officials at 48 institutions, shows that the individuals charged with bringing in money for their schools have a largely pessimistic view of the coming years.
Two-thirds of the officials said they were concerned about keeping fundraising momentum going. And about a third reported that they were worried about turning off donors. One administrator from a liberal arts college wrote in the survey that many social service organizations are also seeking money but may have a more compelling pitch than postsecondary schools. Not all donors realize that many colleges are in a precarious financial position, the administrator wrote.
Only 22% of respondents believe they will meet their fundraising goals this year. Institutions that award master's degrees as their highest academic level had a particularly negative take — more than half of the officials at those institutions didn't believe they would meet their goals.
Some colleges have attempted to move campaigns entirely online. However, a little less than half of the survey respondents said one of their top concerns was working with their campuses and donors virtually.
Colleges are looking ahead at the long-term effects of the virus, but they won't likely reevaluate their fundraising strategies until May, about a month before most institutions' fiscal years wrap up, Durant said.