The Impact of Covid-19 on Fundraising for Initiatives

As the whole world was adapting to the global pandemic, the SIGAP community gathered to grapple with the questions of how these changes are affecting higher education strategic fundraising:


How are we adapting to the sudden shifts in focus to Covid-19 fundraising?

What opportunities has this presented?

What challenges does this present and how are we adapting?


Key highlights from the conversation include:

  • Across the board, there has been a reassessment of institutional priorities given economic uncertainty. Many US institutions have halted capital projects, however, international campuses are looking at partnerships with their national governments to invest in such projects as a means to stimulate the economy.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing existential questions about how universities operate and deliver on their mission. That said, it is inspiring innovation at the highest levels, forging creative and compassionate solutions and, even more than before, requiring fundraisers to meet donors where they are.

  • The question remains as to being able to pivot from COVID-related fundraising back to other priorities (climate, environment, resilience, economics, social inequality) and when/whether and how many new prospects making their first institutional gifts to COVID causes, we can connect to non-COVID priorities, post-crisis.

  • Inter-institutional collaboration continues to grow

  • Some institutions are working to quickly catch up to the very rapid response of faculty members moving their labs and research to a COVID-19 focus. This has presented challenges with coordination, leaving development staff with the question of whether there is an opportunity to develop a larger multi-university regional approach or simply “let the thousand flowers bloom” independently.

  • The financial impact of COVID-19 is uniformly negative across institutions due to loss of revenues from auxiliary services (housing, conferences, etc.). Of course, the scale of this varies greatly depending on whether institutions are public, private, have a medical school, and/or engage in life science research at large scale, etc.

  • Thinking long-range/post-COVID, there is an opportunity to use storytelling to highlight how increased philanthropic investments help us respond to problems faster, and will again in future events. Institutional COVID-19 responses serve as an example of what universities can do during times of crisis, and we can use this pandemic as a model moment.


Moderated by: Crate Herbert (Harvard) and Jason Solle (UCSF)

May 28, 2020