Le Moyne College adjusts fundraising priorities to provide emergency support to students during pandemic.
Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., boasts a large number of first-generation college students, with one in three students receiving a Pell grant. When COVID-19 began impacting students’ basic necessities, such as food and rent, the college leveraged technology to provide swift support through its capital campaign.
Moving into the final stretch of a seven-year capital campaign, Le Moyne College faced an unforeseen hurdle: a global pandemic that compromised access to basic necessities for some of its students.
“We’ve spent a lot of time helping students do things like pay for groceries or pay the electric bill,” said Sam McCrimmon, associate vice president of advancement. “It’s situations where the student had a part-time job helping get through the semester. The student lost that job and then maxed out a credit card paying for groceries. It’s the same on almost every campus in America.”
COVID-19 physically shifted McCrimmon and his colleagues away from their Syracuse, New York, campus and also forced their team to re-examine priorities in the final year of a $100 million capital campaign—the largest in the school’s history. Intended to support seven distinct funding priorities, the campaign now focuses almost exclusively on unrestricted gifts to tackle the most urgent needs.
“The old model where I would jump on a plane to California and go talk to prospects about priorities established six years ago—none of that model works,” McCrimmon said. “Even if I could get to California, I don’t know if the donor would want to see me, and they’d probably wonder why I was talking about the Campaign when we don’t have students on campus. So that’s where we start to focus on the needs of the students.”
Data-driven Work Made Simple
Le Moyne’s development office relies on a combination of Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT for gift management and Blackbaud Fundraiser Performance Management for reporting. “Blackbaud Fundraiser Performance Management has all the intelligence and algorithms, and you combine that with Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT’s ease of use,” McCrimmon said. “Anything that can streamline processes is going to be very useful—and if we can do it in a way that’s user-friendly, that’s even better.”
The Le Moyne advancement office navigates the current fundraising environment while also managing multiple vacancies. “We’re like a lot of advancement offices in that we have a relatively limited support staff and many of us are doing multiple things at once,” McCrimmon said.
He stresses the importance of recording all donor contact as quickly as possible, something Blackbaud tools make as effortless as dictating into a phone while traveling. And when all advancement work at Le Moyne moved remote, Blackbaud solutions made it easy for the college’s phone-a-thon to continue without compromising security—meaning more work for student phone bank employees and more conversations to keep alumni engaged.
Next Challenge: Preserving Enrollment
After ensuring as many students as possible received emergency funding, the Le Moyne advancement team looked toward the next challenge: helping to stave off fall enrollment declines. “We’re predicting there’s going to be a greater need for financial aid than we’ve ever seen,” McCrimmon said. “The student aid applications were filled out pre-pandemic and many are most likely obsolete—and when you think about the recession and what some of these families have lost, they simply don’t have the resources to renew.”
Le Moyne boasts a large number of first-generation college students, and 33% of students receive Pell grants—against a backdrop of one of the 10 poorest cities in the United States. “We’re very proud of our mission, but what it means is that many of these students and their families have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic and the resulting recession,” McCrimmon said.
For now, his team focuses on encouraging donors to provide the support needed to keep students enrolled. “It keeps you humble in a hurry,” McCrimmon said. “They’re fighting every challenge to continue, so you ask, ‘How can I work a little harder to make it happen for them?’”
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