Ohio State struggles to raise money amid 2020’s challenges

Ohio State University’s fundraising took a hit during the summer and early fall.

Unsurprisingly, the drop in donations compared to last year is related to th pandemic, OSU’s top fundraising official said during a recent Board of Trustees meeting. But it’s not limited to that: 2020 has been a tough year for several reasons.

“The virus, things not related to th virus, the election, social unrest, a hiring pause, the inability to travel and hold in-person events, anc even things like (the) leadership transition (at the university) have all had an impact on our fundraising to date,” Michael Eicher, senior vice president for advancement and president of the Ohio State University Foundation, said at the Nov. 19 meeting.

OSU brought in $113.9 million from 74,501 donors during the first three months of the 2021 fiscal year, which started July 1, according to the university. That’s 24% less than it brought in during the same period last year, when it raised $150 million. The number of donors during that period last year was 121,816, meanin there are nearly 50,000 donors who haven’t given this year.

In addition, OSU says it is further behind on its $4.5 billion Time and Change fundraising campaign than it wants to be. September was “hard,” Eicher said. The university brought in the lowest volume of gifts that month since 2015.

“October got a little bit better,” Eicher said, though the university is still seening a decline in gifts of all sizes.

Although every category of donor has been impacted, the largest decreases in giving have come from non-alumni and corporations, according to OSU.

As of Sept. 30, OSU had raised $2.19 billion from 551,353 donors toward the Time and Change campaign. That’s a little less than halfway to the $4.5 billion goal. OSU is also hoping to have participation from 1 million donors.

“The last nine months have slowed us down a bit,” Eicher said. “We had hoped to be farther along in both of the key indicators, the number of donors and the dollars raised.”

But Eicher said he is optimistic about the end of the year and 2021.

“We actually think we are going to regain ground in November and December and probably will end up where we need to be,” Eicher said. “There are encouraging signs out there. We still have a great pipeline, great discussions going on.”

University spokesman Ben Johnson said OSU’s community of donors “is incredibly generous and resilient, and we have seen in past economic downturns that philanthropy bounces back quickly.”

“We remain optimistic about 2021 and beyond with regard to Time and Change: The Ohio State Campaign and overall philanthropic support,” Johnson said in a statement.

The university is not alone when it comes to decreases in giving.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported on a study that found one-quarter of college alumni have donated to their college or university in 2020, and 23% of alumni said they were less likely to donate this year.

The study also found that almost a quarter of the respondents said they had been furloughed or laid off since March.

“What we’re experiencing is sort of sector-wide,” Eicher said. “It’s a tough time right now.”

Hayleigh Colombo
Staff reporter
Columbus Business First