Pandemic deals a blow to college fundraising: report

by Emma


Dive Brief:

  • Fundraising revenue at one in four colleges fell by more than 30% during the first half of fiscal 2021 from the same period the year before, according to consultancy EAB.
  • Just over half of the 104 advancement teams the firm surveyed said the value of new gifts and pledges at their institution fell, a trend largely driven by a decrease in the number of major gifts.
  • Smaller gifts and fewer donors during the first half of fiscal 2021 underscores concerns about the pandemic’s long-term impact on colleges’ financials, EAB explained.

Dive Insight:

Surveys earlier in the pandemic indicated college advancement professionals expected fundraising revenue would decline this year. To adjust, according to one report, they focused on raising money for specific purposes, such as financial aid and virtual instruction, as well as for unrestricted funds.

EAB’s latest survey found a median 9.4% decrease in the value of new gifts and pledges (slightly better than projections for overall fundraising revenue from a June survey). Nearly half of respondents in the latest report said they saw a decrease in the number of new proposals worth $25,000 or more, while a slightly smaller share (42%) said they increased. In all, EAB found a median 11% decrease in the number of gifts worth $25,000 or more.

The number of donors also decreased. Although the median school reported only a 4% drop in their donor count for the period, six in 10 institutions had some degree of decline.

Giving to higher education was on the rise before the pandemic, according to data from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. However, the 6.1% uptick in giving for 2019 — up only 3.4% without Michael Bloomberg’s $1.8 billion gift to Johns Hopkins University  was distributed unevenly across the sector. Private research/doctoral universities netted double-digit gains while bachelor’s degree institutions posted modest decreases.

Similarly, EAB found variation in how the pandemic is affecting fundraising. At a third of colleges, fundraising revenue grew by at least 10%. However, it notes that public institutions’ median 3% revenue gain was driven by “a few very large gifts at the top of the pyramid.”

Meanwhile, a few dozen colleges unexpectedly closed out the first half of the year on a fundraising high note thanks to surprise donations from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. Her $800 million-plus in unrestricted gifts to colleges focused on schools that serve high shares of low-income and minority students and that aren’t typically targeted for large donations.


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