Fundraising for Previously Established Initiatives

With the US upheaval in response to its challenges with social justice adding an additional layer of complexity to university priorities shifting to meet this moment, those involved in both long and recently established initiatives are left wondering how they sustain their efforts. The community gathered to discuss:


How are we embracing opportunities around COVID and equity and inclusion, while sustaining momentum for previously existing priorities?


What happens to the initiatives that we were starting, or have started, and how do we grapple with rapidly changing institutional priorities?


How do we move non-health science initiatives forward during this time of disruption

(e.g. climate change)?


Key takeaways include:

  • This has been a “shock and awe” moment and as fundraisers we are thinking carefully how to make the most of the donor attention we have. How can we use this call to action and sense of urgency to thoughtfully engage and broaden impact? Everyone is thinking about what to do differently: how can we make this a “yes, and” moment and acknowledge this is a time, and an opportunity, to do even more?

  • Still, many institutions are using this moment to reassess and solidify the priorities that they want to move forward, and which are best sunsetted at this juncture.

  • After quickly shifting their focus to COVID-19 response earlier in the year, momentum for previously established initiatives is beginning to re-emerge and donor attention is turning back to these efforts, but now with additional COVID-19, health, and/or social & racial justice lenses integrated

  • In thinking about the importance of basic science and research, universities are refining their case for support, which uniquely positions them to solve real world problems. At the same time, they want to make sure that their approach is sensitive and responsive to the full range of issues affecting the world right now.

  • Some institutions silenced their fundraising efforts at the outset of the pandemic, especially in terms of non-COVID elements of their missions. In hindsight, that may have created major missed opportunities to strengthen engagement/relationships with donors and prospects - an important lesson for the future.

  • After 3+ months of COVID-19 response and emergency student support fundraising, institutions are returning to fundraising for previously established priorities. For many, the pandemic is an example of how multidisciplinary institutions can address complex problems now and in the future. In a way, this crisis has re-energized donors who care about many issues including inequality, climate, and more.



Moderated by: Meghan Fay (Columbia), Michael Kelley (University of Illinois System), Ben Porter (Northwestern)

June 23, 2020