COVID-19’s impact on university fundraising and alumni relations

Expert Insight

COVID-19’s impact on university fundraising and alumni relations

Two transformations to advancement's engagement strategy

Over the past few weeks, my colleagues and I have explored how the current crisis may catalyze changes to how institutions approach advancement over the long term. Based on our research thus far, here are the top two transformations within advancement that we suspect might be here to stay demonstrate COVID-19’s impact on university fundraising.

Transformation 1: Digital engagement will be a permanent addition to events strategy

Events have long been the major pillar of engagement strategy for many institutions. As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded and in-person events were no longer possible,

institutions rapidly pivoted to solely hosting online events and developing digital engagement opportunities. While initially a temporary change, partners are beginning to see the power, flexibility, cost savings, and reach these digital events afford them. Conversations with EAB partners highlight how these successful events have alleviated the concerns of those leaders who were very skeptical about the ability of virtual experiences to engage constituents in a meaningful way.

We anticipate that institutions will continue to reevaluate their events strategy and look for opportunities to utilize virtual channels in a meaningful way, even after the current crisis is over. What events can be brought online and shared with a wider audience? How can we add a virtual element to a popular event? These are the questions that advancement leaders are asking themselves now and will continue to ask after COVID-19.

Transformation 2: Units within advancement will become more integrated, tying engagement to solicitations

The crisis has spurred a degree of integration and collaboration across advancement divisions that has historically been hard to achieve. Over the past weeks, we have heard multiple stories of areas across advancement, from development to advancement services, who quickly came together to generate a communications campaign or stand up an emergency fund solicitation.

The success of these collaborations have led advancement leaders to ask 1) How can this collaboration be sustained? and 2) What might an integration of these departments mean moving forward for advancement?

There is a growing consensus across institutions about the need to recalibrate the entire advancement office. Leaders are thinking beyond the benefits of just breaking down the siloes between two units, like alumni relations and development. For example, one partner shared how they were creating an integrated, matrix-based team with staff from IT, prospect analytics, annual giving, and stewardship. Advancement leaders have begun considering the benefits of transforming the entire operation so that each function serves as a conduit to connect people to the institution in a way that to leads to giving.

The full impact of these changes may not realized for months, and each one comes with a host of questions that need to be answered in order to make them a permanent reality. What we can be certain is there is no going back to “normal”. Instead, this is the start of a transformation for the advancement industry.

Interested in more advancement COVID-19 resources?

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