How COVID-19 has changed the face of fundraising for higher education

Universities need to increase their social engagement with the outside world.

December 14, 2020 by Dr. Samuel Martin-Barbero, Presidential Distinguished Fellow, University of Miami and member of the Edu Alliance Advisory Council, and Juan Pablo Murra Lascurain, Rector Higher Education, Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico) recently published the following article in The World Economic Forum on December 10, 2020. Edu Alliance received permission to republish the piece and thanks the authors and the Forum.

Key Points

Universities could increase fundraising if they start expanding their social purpose off-campus.

It is essential that universities become nimbler, more global in their approach, and less isolated in their social agenda and fundraising action.

The pandemic will reshape how higher education systems decide on what needs more external funding and financial support.

There is a tendency to make a clear distinction between philanthropy and solidarity. Philanthropy is seen to be private in nature, to belong to the realm of the individual and an economic, liberal school of thought. It often offers a tax exemption and is thought to focus on independent causes and a long-term return – sometimes across generations, when it comes to family foundations.

In turn, solidarity tends to be perceived as more social, collective and broader in nature; more dependent and aligned with the Welfare State; progressive in policy terms and seeking short-term returns.

The United States is considered to have philanthropic roots whereas a great part of Europe and Latin America are understood to have principles of solidarity.

However, during this pandemic, we have seen spontaneous, unstructured, collaborative, voluntary initiatives come forth across the globe, led by individuals, associations, public administration and companies from different sectors, which seem to have blurred the line between philanthropy and solidarity (as also happens during humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters). Many of the actions share the same generous and selfless drive to alleviate the effects of the virus on those closest to it and on those hardest hit.

Some of the world’s wealthiest people have contributed to the fight against COVID with money and in kind, in a variety of different ways. In Spain, the founder of Zara, Amancio Ortega, made his factories available for the production of personal protection equipment for patients and Spain’s public hospital system. Moreover, the remarkable involvement of certain Hollywood celebrities – such as Sean Penn’s COVID-19 testing sites in Los Angeles – was immediately, and greatly, appreciated by public authorities.

After the onset of COVID-19, fundraising and development experts from several US universities became concerned about meeting fundraising goals. They were worried that working virtually would make it difficult to make the most of their donor base and campaign teams, since much of their time has traditionally relied on their ability to generate and maintain trust by fostering in-person relations.

US universities became concerned about meeting fundraising goals due to COVID-19. Image from Washburn and McGoldrick

It is clear that COVID-19 will mark a new chapter in the history of higher education, by refining the teaching, learning, student life, mentoring and delivery formats. Significantly, it will also reshape how universities decide on what needs more external and generous funding and resources, which in turn will impact on their own social commitment, institutional engagement and fundraising strategy.

We have for some time now witnessed a shift in consciousness – thanks in part to alternative intellectual frameworks, such as the one proposed by Nobel Prize economist Robert Shiller – in favour of responsible finances and accountable investments. This shift has been felt within higher education. A professor in Canada even resigned from his tenure position to protest against his university’s continuing investment in fossil fuels.

Foundations are now increasing their attention and investment in social issues, from racial justice to supporting public interest journalism, by channeling funds into universities to research misinformation or fake news.

In Mexico, authorities called upon citizens and developed a series of joint efforts with which to face the COVID-19 crisis. These actions were undertaken by the public administration, working together with higher education institutions (such as the Tecnológico de Monterrey and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and industry.

They achieved several solutions, from obtaining accurate information and tracking patients, to pro-bono manufacturing, buying, and distributing of ventilators to hospitals, as well as raising awareness about the importance of wearing masks. Some of these initiatives, under the name Juntos por la Salud, have become genuine fundraising platforms thanks to their crowdfunding approach.

In all these cases, philanthropy and solidarity are part of the same shared drive to help the common good.

Expanding fundraising reach and endorsing new approaches

Universities would do well to realize that they could expand their fundraising reach beyond their communities and regions by expanding their social mission off-campus and overseas.

At a multilateral level, over the past few years, global entities such as the World Bank have invested in modernizing and improving higher education systems in different parts of the world in the belief that better universities lead to more open, diverse, and advanced societies. In the meantime, international cooperation for the educational improvement of certain countries in Latin America and the Caribbean has concentrated on secondary schools, not universities. At a local level in the US, the University of Pennsylvania has gone as far as to act by itself as a private donor to public secondary schools in Philadelphia.

A younger breed of donors now seek for a deeper and measurable impact compared to older benefactors. By doing so, it appears they aspire to leave a collective legacy, instead of personal branding by having their names adorn campus façades, sports facilities and student halls.

We might find ourselves, in a not too-distant future, in a situation in which universities with a conventional fundraising style would find themselves unable to increase gifts to erect or renew tangible assets, such as buildings, offices and labs. Instead, new funds and donations will increasingly endorse those systemic challenges of the millennium: poverty, inequality, accessibility and social justice, among others.

It is likely that higher education will have to stand and listen carefully at the crossroads where philanthropy and solidarity meet, where private and public partners, academic and regular citizens converge.

It is essential that universities assimilate those basic COVID-19 lessons and trends, becoming nimbler, more imaginative, less isolated, and that they increase their social engagement with the outside world.

Universities will probably have to transform more clearly into problem-solvers for third and vulnerable parties even outside their communities. Once there, they will start reaching out more clearly to society in general.

Hopefully, we may yet witness a positive “new normal” impact in higher education, in which universities become the courageous facilitators through which other agents, sectors and institutions advance their social purposes and causes. As Marie Curie (1867-1934) said: “Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”


Edu Alliance Group, Inc. (EAG) is an education consulting firm located in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, and Bloomington, Indiana, USA. We assist higher education institutions worldwide on a variety of mission-critical projects. Our consultants are accomplished university/college leaders who share the benefit of their experience to diagnose and solve challenges.

EAG has provided consulting and successful solutions for higher education institutions in Australia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. Edu Alliance offers higher education institutions consulting services worldwide. Our US office specializes in assisting universities on international projects and partnerships. 

If you like to know more about how Edu Alliance can best serve you, please contact Dean Hoke at dean.hoke@edualliancegroup.com 

Five Things to Know about Online Learning

By guest columnist Dr. Dennis Trinkle, Ball State University September 14, 2020. As faculty members and administrators continue to develop effective responses to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, many institutions have looked to online and digital solutions for sustaining instruction and a positive learning experience.  The sudden onset of the pandemic has forced institutions globally to prioritize digital transformations and enhancements to their systems at a rapid pace that can be tough to keep up with and to accept “good enough” solutions in the short-term.

Now, as institution look toward the 20-21 academic year with more time to prepare and assure a quality learning experience for students, there are many lessons to be taken from the high-quality best practices in online learning and remote work that have been shaped and driven by careful assessment, experimentation, and development over the past three two decades.

Five key understandings may be particularly useful to instructors and institutional leaders developing plans for the fall and for a future educational ecosystem that is quite likely to heavily incorporate online learning.

Lesson 1.  Connections and relationship between students and instructors are foundational.

Students are most engaged and successful in online learning when they feel connected to their instructor and peers.  During these unsettled times, it is already anecdotally clear that students value and benefit from relationship and communication.  Success is anchored in relationships.  When instructors can consistently connect live with students, it is highly beneficial.  Instructors should think about how they can most effectively accomplish this in their courses.  Some effective practices include:

    • Making a live connection whenever you can
    • Sharing short pre-recorded personal videos with students to provide affective presence
    • Introducing key assignments or/and discussions with short videos
    • Holding online connection hours or “coffee” chats
    • Using discussion forums specifically for interaction and discussion forums discussion of key topics
    • Using AI-conversion tools to translate interactions to meet accessibility needs
    • Leveraging voice-over and screen annotation tools to provide discussions and explanations of materials and content

Lesson 2.  Connection and interaction between students are also vital.

When students have the opportunity to interact with one another, establish rapport and collaborate, they feel engaged, connected and part of a supportive community.  Amidst Covid, students have regularly commented that their group projects have been an anchor of stability and personal connection for them.  Students who feel engaged and connected also feel more safe, stable, secure and able to focus on learning.

Useful strategies for fostering student-to-student online interaction include:

    • Incorporating group projects
    • Assigning groups of students to own and lead weekly discussions
    • Using group presentations to reinforce or expand on key learning goals
    • Assigning study teams or share pairs
    • Asking students to provide feedback to another student on a project or assignment
    • Encouraging students to use collaboration forums in an LMS or a social collaboration tool like Slack to support each other

Lesson 3.  Clear and consistent communication is essential

High stress environments such as a new learning or environment or our current extreme circumstances negatively impact cognitive processing.  We simply do not process, retain, or learn as effectively in stressful circumstances.  Thus, it is essential to communicate as clearly, directly, and simply as possible, repeating important information or content in multiple formats at multiple times to reinforce absorption and understanding.  For essential topics, repeating 7 ways on 7 days can be a useful tactic. Being especially clear on expectations and logistical information is important.  Content may be complex and challenging; directions and guidance should be simple and clear.

Specific tactics for assuring clear communication include:

    • Repeating key information in multiple places and different ways (textual, graphically, etc.)
    • Being as precise and detailed on operational and logistical expectations as possible
    • Modelling a safe environment for students to ask questions and seek clarity
    • Provide regular feedback! Qualitative feedback is important for student engagement and learning
    • Keeping inclusively and culturally-sensitive communication practices top of mind for online learning environment

 Lesson 4.  Provide structure, patterns and predictability 

A close correlate of effective communication is a clear organizational structure, patterns of work, and guidelines for course expectations.   Some learning experiences require ambiguity and uncertainty.  In all other cases, organizing the course content and structure so that it is clear, direct, and easy to comprehend is important to the learning experience. While this may seem obvious, it is far harder to create and provide concise and clear directions, so it is often neglected.  Make it a priority.

Specific techniques for assuring clear organization include:

    • Providing a clear map of weekly expectations and assignments
    • Using weekly topical themes that highlight and reinforce learning objectives
    • Re-stating assignments, goals, and objectives each week
    • Keeping inclusively and culturally-sensitive communication practices top of mind for online learning environments

Lesson 5.  Be flexible and capture student feedback

In a live classroom, providing students with regular real-time feedback and being flexibility happens organically.  In an online environment, it requires a deliberate and consistent approach.  The inevitable glitches and challenges that pop up in online learning environments and life are smoothed out when instructors are flexible and responsive.  And, students also are more grounded and engaged—and learn more effectively—when they have the opportunity to provide feedback and help shape the course.

Specific techniques for assuring clear organization include:

    • Asking students for regular weekly feedback on what is working and not working in the course
    • Using small stakes assessments and assignments to track students’ progress, surface issues, and make adjustments
    • Don’t set it and forget it.  Instructors can frame online learning as set and self-sustaining where they would consistently adjust in a face-to-face course.  Be mindful of acting on feedback
    • Using weekly that ask students to reflection and tie together key learnings

Dennis A. Trinkle is the Director for the Center of Information and Communication Sciences (CICS) and Director of the Applied Research Institutes at Ball State University.  Dr. Trinkle brings a diverse multi-sector leadership background to his leadership of CICS, where he also holds the rank of Professor of Information Sciences and Communication.  Prior to joining Ball State, Dr. Trinkle served as the system executive, provost and chief academic officer for the 12 campus Harrison College system.

Dr. Trinkle has served leading institutions across the higher education, corporate, and government sectors, including serving as the chief executive officer of IHETS, chief information officer, associate vice president for academic affairs, and Tenzer Professor of Information Technology for DePauw University, and CEO for multiple technology companies and non-profit organizations.

Trinkle is the author and editor of 16 books and more than 50 articles on entrepreneurship, technology, leadership, teaching and learning, and history.  He earned a bachelor’s degree, from DePauw University, an MBA in technology management from the University of Phoenix, and a M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati.  He resides in Indianapolis with his wife, Kristi, and two sons, JT and Nathan.


Edu Alliance Group, Inc. (EAG) is an education consulting firm located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Bloomington, Indiana USA. We assist higher education institutions worldwide on a variety of mission critical projects. Our consultants are accomplished university / college leaders who share the benefit of their experience to diagnose and solve challenges.

EAG has provided consulting and successful solutions for higher education institutions in Australia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda,  United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Edu Alliance offers higher education institutions consulting services worldwide. Our US office specializes in assisting universities on international projects and partnerships. If you like to know more how Edu Alliance can best serve you, please contact Dean Hoke at dean.hoke@edualliancegroup.com