3 ways the COVID-19 crisis is affecting advancement strategy


3 ways the COVID-19 crisis is affecting advancement strategy

The advancement world has been turned upside down. Across two of the longest weeks in recent memory, countless teams closed their offices, canceled events, and pulled their fundraisers off the road.

My colleagues and I surveyed advancement leaders last week to capture, in real time, how they were dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Eight days later, the dust has begun to settle. Many of our partners have made tough calls that were purely hypothetical just a week ago.

We found that advancement is flipping its strategy on its head by revising frontline officers’ FY2020 metrics, tapping the brakes on upcoming solicitations and giving days, and rethinking commencement and reunion weekend.

Divisional fundraising goals for FY2020 remain largely unchanged; less so for individual gift officers

Most institutions (67%) are not changing their divisional goals, with 14% of the remaining survey respondents saying they haven’t yet decided. Only 19% say they have revised their goal downward or are planning to do so. Of those that are revising their divisional goal downward, about three-quarters are moving it down by somewhere between 11% and 30%.


Of institutions are changing their divisional goals
Of institutions are changing their divisional goals


Of institutions say they are changing frontline officers' goals
Of institutions say they are changing frontline officers’ goals

While divisional goals are remaining unchanged at a majority of institutions, there’s more movement at the individual fundraiser level. 38% of institutions say they are changing frontline officers’ goals (with another 12% saying they are uncertain of whether they’ll do so).

Among institutions that are changing gift officers’ metrics, many are lowering individual dollar goals. Beyond dollars raised, the metrics most often impacted are visits (91% of institutions), proposals submitted (76%), and proposals closed (71%). To counterbalance the decreased in-person activity, some institutions (about 1 in 10) are adding in or revising upwards metrics around meaningful remote contacts via phone, email, text, etc.

Fundraising continues hesitantly onward, though many giving days are off

While 84% of institutions say they are not suspending fundraising activity entirely, 66% have canceled at least some upcoming solicitations (with another 4% planning on doing so).

For many institutions, the cancelations are extending to their upcoming giving days. 52% of institutions report plans to cancel a giving day occurring in the next two months. Of those that are set for launch, only 1 in 5 is refocusing the theme of the giving day to reflect the crisis, with the other 81% going on without thematic changes. 

For guidance on whether you should cancel or reorient your giving day, see my colleague Liz Rothenberg’s recent piece.

Senior class gifts, however, are largely progressing as planned. Among those institutions that hold a senior class gift campaign, two-thirds are still scheduled to occur this Spring.

Amid these pullbacks, the COVID-19 crisis has created an opportunity for advancement leaders to fundraise for immediately urgent needs. 4 out of 5 advancement teams have already sent or are planning to send a coronavirus-focused solicitation (e.g., for student emergency aid).

The jury’s still out on commencement and reunion weekends


Of survey respondents haven't decided what to do about commencement
Of survey respondents haven’t decided what to do about commencement

Few institutions—only 1 in 5—have canceled commencement outright, but many are still on the fence. 45% of survey respondents say they have not decided what to do about commencement, which suggests we could see a wave of cancelations in the coming weeks. Twelve percent of commencements have been reformatted as digital events, and 24% have been pushed back later in the year.

Advancement leaders are likewise ambivalent about reunion weekend. 30% of those institutions with an upcoming reunion weekend have canceled it outright, and 56% are still deciding. Only 12% are postponing or holding a virtual reunion weekend.

Keep checking our coronavirus resource page for the latest insights into advancement’s response to the developing crisis.

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