The Good, the Bad and the Unpredictable : CCAE Exposé #6

Written by Richard Fisher. Posted in Blog

March 2022
Written by: Richard Fisher

This past year appears more transparent as we peer backwards through the pandemic mist to try to figure out whether our own institutional experience was typical, atypical or even unique.

How did our fundraising hold up vs. our peers? Did we continue our alumni engagement efforts? How did we perform vs. our cohort and the category as a whole? Did major gifts increase? What about the smaller donors? What was the percentage change in student financial aid? What about planned giving? Did research $ hold up?

Step forward, to the 2021 CASE-CCAE Support of Education Survey. 2021 represents the fourth year that CASE and CCAE have partnered on this survey and its associated executive brief, which is unique to the Canadian post-secondary landscape. Mark Hazlett, President and CEO of CCAE commented: “Four years ago, when we embarked on the creation of a comprehensive and authoritative source of data on higher education fundraising within Canada, we understood the importance and critical nature of this type of project… Since the pandemic, the survey’s importance has become increasingly crucial and provides the sector with a map of the resilience of philanthropy within education, and what the future might hold.”

Caveat lector
In reading the survey, it is important to bear in mind that the variables in 2021 were literally off the charts: some institutions stayed open; some moved to a hybrid or remote model; others even paused their fundraising activity initially to see if the smoke cleared. (It didn’t). Some institutions were already in campaign mode, others delayed launching their campaigns. Any of these factors could lie behind any unusual movements of 2021 so it is important to look back at the previous years’ data to gain the broader perspective.

A post-pandemic perspective
Interestingly, although all institutions underwent the challenges of Covid simultaneously, the survey indicates that the experiences by individual cohorts – and even within cohorts – was quite different. For example, St. Francis Xavier in Nova Scotia did not close at all, unlike their cohortees to the west. Vice-President of Advancement, Murray Kyte said: “Because of our high student experience ratings, we found that our alumni felt a great connection with our students and so gave their support readily.” Generally speaking, the Undergraduate cohort as a whole bounced back from 2020 levels in fundraising dollars and actually doubled donations to student aid.

Vice-President of Advancement, Mark Savenkoff of Algonquin College also saw an increased interest in student aid: “In fact, the students themselves gave, via the student union, to help fellow students. It doesn’t get much better than that!” Looking at the Colleges and Institutes cohort as a whole, the number of donors under $10,000 increased significantly over the past three years, which is great news for the future. However, overall dollars raised decreased dramatically and student aid remained essentially flat. Individual institutions will have their own experience against which to compare these apparent anomalies.

The University of Guelph in the Comprehensive cohort reported a healthy bounce back with regard to funds raised. Jason Moreton, Associate Vice-President, Alumni at University of Guelph said: “We are projecting that we will exceed our financial targets this year, which are already back to 2019 levels, so we are cautiously optimistic about the future.” Although median new funds recovered across the Comprehensive cohort median cash income itself plunged, a phenomenon that was unique to this cohort. The number of alumni donors seems to have shrunk in a similar fashion, which may explain the drop in short-term cash.

The Medical/Doctoral cohort showed most resilience seeing substantial gains in new funds raised, largely driven by a continuing increase in research donations. Although the number of lower-level donors has fallen considerably in this cohort, this does not seem to be affecting overall dollars raised. Conversely, Medical/Doctoral was the only cohort to significantly shed advancement staff whereas all the other cohorts remained generally steady. The reasons for this will doubtless vary by institution. Roxanne McHattie, Campaign Manager at the University of Saskatchewan identified some key trends: “Transformational gifts in the research area are on the increase and the source of those gifts will likely continue to move towards foundations and trusts. We are also seeing encouraging growth in larger gifts from corporations too.”

The 85/1 rule?
The Pareto principle states that 80% of an organisation’s business is typically generated by 20% of its customers. But in the Canadian advancement sector that figure rises to a staggering proportion: 85% of our donations come from just 1% of our donors! This concentration of large donors means that the data is exceedingly susceptible to the effects of a single large gift, especially within a single cohort. The prominence of large donors may help to explain why the amount of undesignated donations across the sector has shrunk to 2%, indicating that our largest donors have a highly focused vision for their philanthropy. Yet research and student aid donations increased also, which shows that both long-term and shorter-term needs were key motivators for donors in a highly unusual year.

So what about the future?
2021 was an unusually volatile year but as we turn the corner into the post-pandemic era, the events of 2022 will help us to gauge whether the advancement sector has returned to normal, to a new normal or to something completely new. Whatever happens, 2022 is likely to be fascinating year so buckle up and enjoy the ride!



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