COVID-19’s major impact on independent school advancement


COVID-19’s major impact on independent school advancement

Over the past couple of months, EAB has explored how the COVID-19 crisis may catalyze permanent changes to advancement strategies. Based on our research thus far, and drawing on lessons from higher education, changes made in light of COVID-19 might actually be valuable innovations that persist. We believe several of the innovations related to digital engagement are here to stay, and will be a necessary component of events strategy, relationship building, and alumni outreach. 

While initially a temporary change, EAB partners are beginning to see the power, flexibility, cost savings, and reach digital engagements can afford them. See examples below of how independent schools are already adapting to changes.


more was raised virtually than previous fundraising records
more was raised virtually than previous fundraising records

The show can go on—virtually

As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded and in-person events were no longer possible, schools rapidly pivoted to hosting online events, like auctions and giving days, as virtual opportunities to donate to the school.

University Prep embraced the new limitations by hosting a virtual raise the paddle day, UPrep Together, rather than cancel the event altogether. While the event has traditionally raised money for financial aid endowment, this year the school broadened the use to also include emergency financial aid, due to the pandemic. By going virtual, they were able to rally their entire community—from grandparents to staff to alumni—around this very important mission and they even event beat previous fundraising records by $150,000.

Connecting your community, one dinner at a time

Schools have long relied on events like bookfairs or sports games to build and strengthen connections with families. Being remote has challenged those efforts and schools have been devising new ways to build those connections between campus and home.

Princeton Day School enlisted their Food Service Director to host Cooking@Home, a series of videos—cooking show style—where he prepares meals and shares techniques and tips on cooking. 

Not only do these videos help families by offering easy ideas for healthy meals, but they also take advantage of the digital format to offer a broader range of ways families can connect to school—something that can be very difficult during “normal times” when complicated schedules make it challenging to attend events.

Let your alumni lend their expertise—on Zoom

Traditionally, alumni giving in independents schools, particularly for millennials, has lagged far behind that in higher education. Use the new virtual world as a way to creatively engage alumni in ways that help them feel more valued as well as connected to the school.

What began as an offer from parents to share their expertise during the pandemic, Georgetown Day School created a program called GDS Presents comprised of weekly live discussions for members of the community. School alumni soon joined the effort and began sharing their expertise, either professional or hobby-related, as presenters or members of a panel. The program is run by their directors of community relations and alumni engagement.

We anticipate that institutions will continue to reevaluate their engagement strategy and look for opportunities to utilize virtual channels in a meaningful way, even after the current crisis is over. Initially borne of necessity, these changes can potentially transform how schools achieve goals, in particular regarding events planning, building, and maintaining relationships with the community, and creating connections with alumni.

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