Keep the Conversation Going
In the wake of the pandemic, students were in need and donors responded.
Fundraising has taken on an increased urgency in supporting the well-being of students and the health of higher education.
That’s the finding of a recent survey of more than 120 fundraisers at universities throughout the country.
“These are the very institutions that are the fabric of our society,” said Jen Howe, vice president for University Advancement. “There are families who don’t know if they can send their kids in the fall. There are concerns about the overall well-being of students coping through a pandemic. We have to be able to have resources on hand to provide protective gear or additional classroom and living space or additional money to help students whose parents have lost their jobs, their health and, in some tragic cases, their lives to the pandemic.”
In the first weeks after the outbreak of COVID-19, responses to a survey by Grenzebach Glier and Associates, philanthropic consultants, showed a slowing of fundraising efforts and a reticence to reengage in conversations about philanthropy. But that pessimism is increasingly being replaced by cautious optimism fueled by ongoing conversations with audiences including alumni, parents and friends.
Clear communication based on the comfort level of the donor or volunteer is primary, said Chris Morrison ’85, director of campaign operations. Members of the advancement fundraising team first reached out in the early stages of the pandemic to inquire about the health of individuals and their families. Now when appropriate, staff are asking permission to continue conversations about giving or volunteering.
“The greatest concern donors and friends articulated was the impact on students, especially the Class of 2020 and the lost memories caused by cutting short their on-campus experience,” he said.
Donors responded that they were still committed to the University and its priorities of providing scholarships, creating experiential learning opportunities and building innovation in classrooms and laboratories.
And, unlike what has been reported by GG&A from other institutions, UD donors who committed to giving before the pandemic are not currently asking to defer their pledge payments. This means UD can continue to plan and execute its mission that their support is meant to drive forward.
Prospective donors and volunteers are also accepting more invitations for one-on-one virtual conversations. For many, the newfound comfort level with digital communications paired with its ease and flexibility mean more Flyers and friends can make time to hear about how they can help. Conversations March 23 through May were up 63% over last year to nearly 4,000.
“There is a lower threshold to entering into a conversation, and they’re happy to invite you into their living room,” Howe said. “Our donors are listening — and many are responsive to the direct needs of our students.”
In response to trends in fundraising, UD had already been changing the way it connects and asks, which Howe said put her staff in a better position when the pandemic hit. This includes improvements in digital communications, creating peer networks and encouraging unrestricted giving.
“When you’re giving in a time of crisis, you realize how fluid everything is,” Howe said. “It’s important for our supporters to be able to trust the institution to know what our students really need and to use their gifts in a very strategic way for things we could have never anticipated — like a pandemic.”