Educational Fundraisers Worry Economy May Keep Them From Meeting Goals, Survey Says
Educational fundraisers have lost confidence in their institution’s ability to raise the money it needs to meet its revenue goals, according to a new survey from fundraising consultancy Washburn & McGoldrick.
This latest survey is the eighth in a series of questionnaires the firm began sending to its clients in April 2020. During the first year of the pandemic, the firm surveyed its
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Fundraisers at educational institutions have lost confidence in their institution’s ability to raise the money it needs to meet its revenue goals, according to a new survey of 423 advancement professionals by fundraising consultancy Washburn & McGoldrick.
Polled in December — halfway through the 2023 financial year — 67 percent of fundraising leaders and 68 percent of frontline fundraisers expected to meet that year’s fundraising targets. That’s a sharp drop from the 87 percent of fundraising leaders and 80 percent of frontline fundraisers who said in April 2022 that they expected to meet their goals for financial year 2022.
“The economic uncertainty looms large in the minds of many donors and will certainly impact our ability to move significant gifts along,” one fundraiser wrote when asked what would be the most substantial change this year.
Routine surveys had previously found a general upward trend in fundraiser confidence, but this latest poll dropped it back near January 2021 levels. Still, the decline is nowhere near the crisis of confidence fundraisers experienced in April 2020, when just 24 percent of leaders and 21 percent of frontline fundraisers said they expected to meet the financial year’s revenue goals.
The bulk of those surveyed in December — 312 — were frontline fundraisers, while 111 were fundraising leaders. Respondents represented 118 colleges and 10 independent schools. This is the eighth in a series of surveys the firm began in April 2020. During the first year of the pandemic, the firm surveyed quarterly but switched to biannual surveys during the past two years. Each survey has received answers from 386 to 506 respondents.
The drop in confidence in this latest survey may be a side effect of fundraiser vacancies and overwork among those who remain on staff at colleges and independent schools. A majority of fundraising leaders — 71 percent — said open positions and staff turnover were a major challenge. Sixty-two percent of frontline fundraisers agreed. Burnout and uncertainty were also a sticking point, according to roughly equal shares of leaders and frontline fundraisers — 55 percent and 56 percent, respectively. Staff morale was another problem. Forty-seven percent of leaders and 45 percent of frontline fundraisers said it was a major challenge.
“I am reaching a threshold of what I can do without additional support,” one fundraiser wrote about the changes they expected to their work in 2023.
Despite their stress, most fundraisers expressed high confidence in their own abilities — especially making the case for institutional priorities, meeting their job performance metrics, and handling their responsibilities at both home and work. Confidence levels diminished — but still remained high — when it came to building a pipeline of prospective donors and increasing fundraising or engagement momentum.
Even when fundraisers execute their duties effectively, the authors write, “they are also struggling with the challenges of resignations, burnout, and morale.”
Return to Office Still a Sticking Point
Throughout the six surveys that asked about it, respondents reported shifting remote work practices. In September 2020, for example, 81 percent of respondents said their work was fully remote; in December 2022, that share was just 8 percent. Remote work peaked in January 2021, when 91 percent of respondents said they worked outside of the office.
In-office work, meanwhile, peaked in November 2021, when 37 percent of fundraisers said that’s how they worked. Hybrid work schedules are now at an all-time high, with 59 percent of respondents working that way. That’s a big jump from the 14 percent of respondents who said they worked a hybrid schedule in September 2020.
Few employees want to return to the office full-time. When asked to identify their “preferred work setting,” fundraisers’ first choice has been hybrid work — splitting their time between remote and in-office work — since November 2021, when it peaked at 67 percent. By December 2022, it had fallen to 52 percent. Still, it far outpaced preferences for fully remote work (25 percent) and fully in-office work (23 percent).
After pandemic-induced remote work, some fundraisers are simply unwilling to commute to the office every day. Ninety-two percent of fundraisers who currently work remotely and 57 percent of those who work a hybrid schedule said they were likely to search for a new job if their employer began requiring them to work from the office five days a week.
Favorability of fully remote work has held relatively steady at 25 percent since November 2021 — briefly dropping to 22 percent in April 2022. During that same period, fundraisers’ preference for working in the office full-time jumped from 8 percent to a new high-water mark of 23 percent.
When it comes to donor engagement, however, fundraisers say their in-person meetings have surged since they survey first asked about them in September 2020. They reported the highest rates of in-person donor-qualification meetings — 53 percent — yet recorded in the four surveys that have asked about it. Notably, this was the first survey in which more than half of respondents said they held these meetings in-person.
Most fundraisers have been asking for gifts in person for a little longer. The tipping point came in April 2022, when 52 percent of respondents did so. In December, that share grew to 72 percent.