As fundraisers in higher education move into FY21 with new strategies for a landscape still grappling with COVID, EAB Advancement Marketing Services (AMS) gathered data across our institutional partners to quantify what effect the current crisis had on the final quarter of FY20. Indexed transactional data across all AMS partner institutions shows a particularly steep decline in March and April, early in the crisis.
Cross-partner month by month
All-giving donors by month
March and April were a time of particularly intense uncertainty nationwide, and it stands to reason that donors might be skittish to make donations at a time when health and economic concerns were top of mind. In trying to answer the question of whether donors were still receptive to solicitations from their alma mater, the data around digital interactions provided some useful insights. For colleges and universities that continued to send fundraising emails in spring FY20, the open and click-through rates were up significantly over the past year’s spring timeframe. This suggests that donors having more time at home provided them some additional bandwidth to pay attention to what their alma mater was sending. Gauging unsubscribe rates relative to clicks is a helpful metric in evaluating whether donors are bothered by communications, and unsubscribe rates were down in FY20 relative to the past spring. Digital engagement markers seem to indicate that donors are, on the whole, not put off by their schools continuing to fundraise during the COVID crisis.
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Much of the decline in March and April can be traced to the cancellation or scaling back of major fundraising events, particularly Days of Giving. While many schools in the AMS dataset had to cancel or scale back their March and April giving events and solicitations, nearly all of them proceeded with a May or June strategy of regular solicitations around the close of their fiscal year. This resumption of more ‘typical’ fundraising saw a June that was very much on par with recent years and helped salvage some of the donor loss from earlier in the spring.
In examining cohorts of schools, one notable exception to the substantial spring decline were Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). While those institutions faced the same challenges as their non-HBCU peers, like closed campuses and canceled events, the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement galvanized HBCU donors and inspired many new donors to support these institutions. Looking across AMS HBCU partners, the spring trend is one of growth and energy:
HBCU cross-partner month by month
All-giving donors by month
As institutions across the country adapt to the new world of virtual events, Zoom donor meetings and subdued campus activity, the lessons learned from FY20 show us that donors do remain receptive to a compelling case for giving and that schools should feel confident proceeding with consistent solicitations in this still-uncertain environment. With an election looming and COVID numbers continuing to create uncertainty, keeping a steady course with annual fundraising will help higher education weather this storm.