Recently I led members of the Peterson Rudgers Group team in the design and facilitation of a two-day university leadership retreat that included the chancellor, his provost, the vice chancellors and deans. This has become a significant area of practice for our firm, and one that Julie, Steve and I find deeply rewarding. There is both art and science in creating and facilitating a program that fosters deep team dialogue and strategic thinking. And it can have almost magical outcomes in both team building and performance.
For colleges in the midst of presidential transition, this is often the time of year when search committees are reviewing candidates, selecting finalists and preparing to announce a new leader. It is an historic, forward-looking milestone in the life of an institution, and among the most important responsibilities trustees and university leaders undertake.
As we watch colleges, universities, and schools struggle with decision-making around the fall, one fact looms large: there is an unprecedented level of uncertainty that, for many, is paralyzing.
Some of this is completely outside everyone’s control: Will the infection rate surge again? Will there be public health directives that affect campuses? Will there be travel restrictions? Can international students even get a visa?
But another significant portion is because all of our well-constructed planning models are off. What does it mean if a student participates in a virtual campus visit? Do enrollment deposits mean fall matriculants? And what’s going on with fundraising, anyway? All of our formulas for estimating yield, financial aid needs, or annual giving are completely blown out of the water in the midst of the pandemic.
One thing that can help with the second category of uncertainty is to gather fresh data. Many schools are doing just that: surveying students about their online experience, parents about their views on cost and value, faculty and staff about their experiences pivoting online and the support they need to deliver instruction and services in the fall. While these data can’t completely lift the mist, they might help you get out of the “dense fog” you’ve been driving through, to quote a recent Chronicle article.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Both in our scanning and in our conversations with clients, we often see themes emerging across the country. One common theme during the pandemic has been: How can we ask our donors for financial support when there is so much hardship out there? Should we change what we are asking for? Should we delay that campaign we’ve been planning?
While we don’t claim to be experts in fundraising, we track those who are. We asked our colleague and research associate Toni Shears to review the literature and share some of the most useful advice that experts across the country are offering. We hope you’ll find Toni’s compilation helpful.
Most professional fundraisers have worked through tough times and economic downturns, but it’s safe to say that none have seen a crisis quite like this. While organizations struggle to offset new costs and lost revenue, fundraisers are under pressure to sustain giving in what looks to be the worst economic downturn of our times.