3 critical topics to discuss with your board about the impact of COVID-19 on university fundraising

Expert Insight

3 critical topics to discuss with your board about the impact of COVID-19 on university fundraising

With an overwhelming amount of decisions to be made in the upcoming months, setting the agenda for your next board meeting has never been more difficult. Planning for the future with an unlimited number of possibilities and unknowns due to COVID-19 is difficult, to say the least. Below are three critical topics to put at the top of the agenda for your next board meeting.

Is it right for today and ready for a recession?

What changes do we need to make?

How do we make reasonable adjustments?

Topic #1: Advancement’s structure–is it right for today and ready for a recession?

As hiring freezes continue and institutions start to furlough employees, chief advancement officers must ensure their staffing structure will have the highest possible ROI in the months to come. Making strategic staffing decisions and shifting roles towards high ROI activities will not only help bring in revenue but will make it easier to make the case for sustained investment in advancement when tough budget cuts begin.

Use the following resources to make recommendations to your board on what staffing changes need to be made now, and where additional adjustments might need to happen in the future.

Topic #2: Current and future campaigns–what changes do we need to make?  

If you’re in a campaign, preparing to launch, or finishing one, it is imperative that you re-visit timelines, goals, and planned events with your board. Right now, people will accept and understand the need for changes, but delaying decisions will result in confusion and reduce constituents’ confidence.

During these conversations, it is critical to keep in mind how the last recession influenced fundraising outcomes.  Below are some issues that EAB recommends you explore with your board members.  

  • Extend the timeline to successfully meet campaign goals and hold wrap-up celebrations in-person
  • Push back the launch to allow for in-person events and robust peer-to-peer fundraising
  • Readjust messaging and planned solicitations to be sensitive towards emerging hardships for prospects, donors, and alumni that may restrict their participation in the campaign
  • Consider pausing active fundraising for campaign initiatives that seem out-of-place, such as new buildings
  • Finalize new fundraising initiatives focused on direct student support and/or create a mini-campaign for COVID-19 funds
  • Discuss what updates and communications are needed for internal stakeholders such as deans and department chairs regarding how campaign changes may impact their fundraising projections
  • Outline a plan to communicate transparently with external stakeholders about any campaign changes

Topic #3: Long-term goals–how do we make reasonable adjustments?

Setting reasonable expectations for long-term goals is challenging, given the rapidly evolving global crisis. It is unclear what the situation will look like 1, 3, or 6 months from now. While your advancement division may hit or come very close to your FY2020 goals depending on when your fiscal year ends, it is important to raise the following questions with your board as you solidify plans for FY2021.

33.1%

reduction in revenue from the top three gifts in 2009 compared to 2008
reduction in revenue from the top three gifts in 2009 compared to 2008
  • How much of our revenue comes from our top three gifts? In the last recession, the top three gifts added up to be 33.1% lower in 2009 than in 2008.
  • How robust is the middle of our donor pyramid or table? Shops with robust pre-major-gift pipelines outperform their peers.
  • Who are our loyal donors and what percent of our revenue do they make up?
  • Have there been any significant changes in donations yet from our trusted top donors?
  • What are we hearing from our major gift officers when it comes to their donors?
  • Are our metrics flexible enough to keep our gift officers motivated to cultivate donors?

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