Should we cancel our giving days, senior class gifts, and phonathons?

Expert Insight

Should we cancel our giving days, senior class gifts, and phonathons?

COVID-19's impact on fundraising

As COVID-19 continues its relentless march onward, the decision to fundraise amid a global pandemic differs dramatically by campus. There are a lot of questions and concerns about soliciting in the current environment. 

In particular, many advancement leaders are trying to figure out what to do with scheduled appeals and spring initiatives. While it is incredibly important to be sensitive to the evolving situation and the context on your campus, we believe there are many worthy and timely reasons to reorient, rather than cancel planned solicitations. Here are three ways to rethink your spring fundraising activities.

1. Days of giving

Many schools traditionally hold these 24 hour blitzes in April through June.  Rather than canceling your planned giving day, consider whether it is possible to shift your focus to “just-in-time” funding for students in need? 

$320K+

Raised for the campus food pantry at Kansas State University in 2019
Raised for the campus food pantry at Kansas State University in 2019

For example, students struggling with food and housing insecurity are particularly vulnerable as campuses close residence halls and limit dining services in the wake of COVID-19. In 2019, Kansas State University made the Wildcats Cupboard the focus of their giving day, raising over $320,000 for the campus food pantry. If the bulk of your giving day materials are already designed and/or printed, could you more prominently feature funds for the food pantry and/or emergency grants in your social media marketing and communications strategy?

2. Senior class gifts

March and April are typically when campuses ramp up their efforts for senior gifts. While many seniors are grieving the milestones and traditions that aren’t going to happen this spring, they have also seen friends and classmates wrestling with tough situations, such as figuring out how to store/ship belongings, needing to buy tickets home, and having to purchase Wi-Fi hotspots or laptops to learn remotely. 

In many of these situations, individuals are seeking and receiving assistance from university emergency funds. We recommend offering seniors the option to direct either their individual or collective gifts to the student emergency fund at your institution. If you already offer this option, it is a great time to share stories of how these funds are helping current students.   

For example at UW-Bothell, seniors have made the student emergency fund the focus of their class fundraising efforts since 2015. 

3. Phonathons

$90K+

Raised for the food insecurity fund in three years at Towson University
Raised for the food insecurity fund in three years at Towson University

Colleges and universities are discussing whether to pause or stop their calling programs for the near-term. If these programs rely solely on student callers, it may not be possible to continue unless they will be working remote. If you are planning to continue your calling program, one approach might be to embed an ask for “just-in-time” student needs into the script. 

For example, Towson University regularly asks all callers to donate $10 to their student meal assistance program as part of their phonathon program.  They have raised over $90,000 for the food insecurity fund in three years.  Another approach would be to partner with enrollment to redeploy student callers to help with recruitment efforts. With many institutions canceling their in-person yield events and shifting to virtual events, using student callers to connect with prospective students, answer questions, and create a personal connection to the institution would be invaluable as schools look to fill their classes for the fall.  

Related advancement and coronavirus resources