The challenges facing fundraising in higher education and how to knock them down

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The challenges facing fundraising in higher education and how to knock them down

While fundraising itself is a challenging task, fundraising specifically in the education realm is even more demanding. For schools, fundraising is moderately easy but when it comes to higher education (colleges and universities), the task is difficult owing to the complexity of projects, activities and core functionalities of the institution.

Let’s have a look at why higher education institutions require funds.

  1. Research purposes:- Research plays a vital role in higher studies. They are carried out not only to gain knowledge or for valuable insights into the subject but also in a quest to develop cutting edge technologies or for the cure of a disease. These researches are often resource-intensive and incur a huge amount of money. A large chunk of available funds is always channeled for conducting research by the institutions.
  2. For events:- Funds are required for exhibitions, competitions, guest lectures, and other events.
  3. Upgrading facilities:- Latest technology and updated facilities are crucial for academic activities as well as the overall functioning of institutions. Hence, funds are required for upgrading and restoring facilities.
  4. For supporting students:- The funds are also funneled for the low-cost accommodation and scholarships for talented students who cannot afford it. Supporting disabled students are also an important aspect of fundraisers.

Private institutions, from the big ones (for example, Harvard University) to the smaller ones, survive on funds. Harvard raised a whopping $1.42 million in the fiscal year 2018. This came as a 10 percent growth in the overall funds raised in the fiscal year 2017. The graph below shows the funds raised by Harvard University from 2013 through 2018.

Funds raised by Harvard University from 2013 through 2018.

For Harvard, being a huge name, funds come without much struggle. But for others, there is a need to pump in some extra efforts to raise funds efficiently, let us analyze the key challenges faced by higher education institutions and in the latter part have a look at how to tackle them.

The three key challenges

The limited resources, dependency upon traditional revenue sources and donor’s shifting behavior when it comes to making a gift – fundraisers are facing a set of challenges. But there are three key challenges that fundraisers in the higher education sector face and they are highlighted below:

  • The competition for donors is growing like never before. Today, in the US, there are 1.5 million charities. To add to that, there is an increase in research-driven institutions who are fiercely competing for funds.
  • A paradigm shift in communication and donation methods. A US adult spends an average of 24 hours a week on the mobile device. In 2000, the time spent by an American on mobile was 9.4 hours a week. Today, there are more than 800 social media channels. By the end of 2019, 246 billion emails will be sent per day. Businesses reaching out to the clients/customers through online platforms has exponentially grown in the past couple of years. The implication is clear. There is a tremendous increase in the ways of communication with your donors and in this digital world, people have the liberty of what they want to read, whom they want to be contacted with and through which channels.
  • There is a significant drop in alumni participation in fundraising. According to a report by EAB, a best practices firm that research and address challenges in the education sector, although the funds are seeing an increase the alumni donors are declining.

Knock down the challenges with a compelling fundraising strategy

Beneath the challenges, there is an incredible opportunity hidden that can be unearthed with a compelling fundraising plan. It should incorporate the following planning processes:-

Prepare yourself:- Define clearly your strategy and be well versed with each and every aspect of your institution. Right from the mission and goals to the channeling of funds, you may be asked for any information by the donors. One question that donors are tempted to ask is about the allocation of donations and how the donations you receive will have a positive outcome.

Devise a strategy:- A well researched and a well-planned strategy will truly revolutionize your efforts. Define the following questions while you create a strategy:

  • How much fund do you need to raise and why?
  • From whom you want to raise donations?
  • How would you want to allocate the funds?

Leverage the technology:- No doubt, there is no organization that can sustain without a modern, digitalized approach to reach out to their targeted audiences. But there is a need to fine-tune your approach. Modernize your outreach by leveraging the technology in order to scale up the engagement. Choose the right communication channels whether it is social media platform, emails, digital advertising and marketing platforms. Rather than broadcasting the same message across all the channels, focus on tailor-made approach so that you create a unique identity.

Strengthen your alumni relations:-  Alumni engagement can reap in more benefits than what a non-alumni supporters can provide. Alumni support enables to expand the supporter’s base since they have the first-hand experience of the strengths, student’s experiences, programs, and functionalities of the university.

Involve the top management of your institution:- Keep the higher management of the university in the picture while you design your strategy, while you start with your fundraising campaign and if possible throughout the entire drive. Because of their expert knowledge in the field and leadership qualities, their involvement in the operations will throw a positive impact.

The added benefits of fundraising for higher education

Fundraising not only helps you raise funds and donations, but it also brings you certain other benefits. By asking for funds from individuals and organizations you are introducing your university to a potential pool of donors and hence creating awareness about your education structure and its mission. It will help you build your networks and connections with people who may contribute to the wellbeing of your institution. You may even come across people who might be willing to play non-executive roles for your university and college. This will play a role in boosting the overall morale of the institution.


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