The Advancement Angle: Ghosts of 2020 Past, Present, and Future
As we close out 2020, it’s important to celebrate our successes, acknowledge the challenges we’ve faced, consider new opportunities and obstacles we’ve yet to overcome, and look forward to what we can expect in the new year and beyond.
Back in spring, COVID-19 shut down the world. Like everyone else, community colleges went through that initial pause and regrouping phase, as everything that could—even some things previously considered impossible—went digital and remote. Online classes. Online galas. Online board meetings. Online donor visits. Online alumni events. The list goes on.
Even while many struggled to find their own paths, community colleges and their foundations did what they always do best: They responded to the needs of their students and communities. Existing emergency funds were emptied in support of students. New funds were established. Individual and corporate donors not only sustained previous levels of giving, but in many cases increased their generosity. Federal stimulus dollars rolled in. New systems were hastily erected to support the sudden influx and outflow of support. The need was overwhelming, the work monumental, the support community colleges provided undeniable.
We survived the chaos of spring and collapsed into summer, gasping for breath and wondering how we should brace ourselves for the tidal wave of students that would surely overwhelm us. We expected the unemployed to seek new skills and retraining opportunities even as new and recent high school grads shied away from four-year institutions and embraced the safer, local option our institutions provided. Instead, a 7.5% decrease became the new “flat” for community college enrollment, while overall undergraduate enrollment across higher ed only experienced a 2.5% decline.
Ironically, even as enrollment sagged, philanthropy soared. Compared to the first half of 2019, the first half of 2020 saw a 7.5% increase in overall giving (not just for education), according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s 2020 Second Quarter Report. The report noted increases across the board: mid-level gifts, major gifts, donor retention, recaptured donors. In regard to community colleges, GiveCampus founder and CEO Kestrel Linder noted a 47% increase in funds raised in the first nine months of 2020 compared to all of 2019, exemplified by institutions like Harper College, Portland Community College, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Wake Technical Community College, and Hartnell College.
As we celebrate those successes and others like them, our elation is tempered by ongoing challenges and considerations:
- Many financial windfalls in corporate giving came due to previously confirmed sponsorship commitments and pledges that were maintained and the ability for some businesses and organizations to reallocate funds previously earmarked for travel to bolster charitable interests. But as FY21 wears on and we look forward to FY22, the corporate sector may be forced to cinch its belt further, potentially decreasing or eliminating those giving opportunities. What previously unengaged businesses or organizations are thriving, and how can we make our case for support and show that their best interests align with supporting our students and communities through their local community colleges?
- Even if overall fundraising numbers are encouraging for many, how much of that boost is due to emergency aid-related initiatives? Many of the events that we historically rely on to provide unrestricted funds for foundation operations have been cancelled, postponed, or moved online. How can we ensure that our foundations are funded sufficiently to undertake the important work we do to support our institutions and students?
- As we head into the winter months and COVID-19 sees a resurgence across the country, virtual engagement continues to be the primary—if not sole—means of connecting with donors. How can we continue to build those key relationships in an exclusively virtual setting? And how can we successfully connect and build relationships with new donors whom we have never met in real life?
- The results of the 2020 election will fuel conversations for months to come with speculations on President-elect Biden’s plans for higher ed and various administration appointments, vice president-elect Harris’ HBCU graduate status, and even Jill Biden’s longtime role as a community college instructor. That’s to say nothing of what’s to come from the newly elected Congress and its agenda, which may not fully take shape until Georgia runoff elections take place in January.
- Directly tied to the new administration is the potential for a new stimulus bill and higher ed’s place in that next wave of funds. Those funds may be crucial as state budgets likely see further cuts in FY22. The best-case scenario may see a similar balancing act that we saw in FY21 between federal stimulus funding and state budget cuts that balance out to a relatively modest negative impact on our budgets, but that will only kick the financial can down the road to FY23. What more can we do now to insulate ourselves from the ongoing fluctuations of government support?
2020 may have been unprecedented in many ways, both negative and positive. But looking to 2021 and beyond, we also have hope.
- As everything we have known has been upended in 2020, we have been forced to wipe tables clean and rebuild—sometimes clearing away old, outdated practices and systems and opening the doors for new, creative solutions and approaches.
- When industries figure out their path well enough for workers to see real opportunities for employment, community colleges will be the linchpin that will connect employers with the retrained and reskilled workers they need.
- Private foundations and federal agencies alike are marking renewed interest in funding initiatives addressing pressing social issues that also align with community college topics of interest such as equity and access, basic needs, racial justice, workforce development, and the future of work.
2021? Bring it on. Let’s do this.
About the author(s)
For more information about CASE's community college resources, contact Marc Westenburg, director, foundations and community colleges, at email@example.com or +1 202-478-5570.