The Current State of Higher Education Advancement and Major Gift Processes

As growing numbers of students and educators return to campus to resume in-person instruction, it seems as though there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel in the world of university life and fundraising. Advancement teams have been under intense pressure during the past year to meet fundraising goals and worked tirelessly to introduce new ways to connect with donors from a distance. However, many teams are pivoting and seeing success. They’re increasing their investment in developing major gift pipelines, creating more “giving day” events that focus on fundraising for specific causes, using new methods such as crowdfunding, and investing more in technology.

Technology Usage in Education

The results have paid off, as 9 out of every 10 institutions reported attainment of their 2020 goals. Looking forward to the 2021/2022 year, advancement teams still face an uncertain path as they work to maximize giving by taking the best of what they have developed during the pandemic and consider the role of in person gatherings. 

Many will also consider improvements that can be made to major gift intake. Gaps throughout the gift lifecycle​ can directly impact the path to critical funds for higher education institutions. In a recent survey1 conducted by Docusign, one third of organizations surveyed reported gaps in gift processing, collection and stewardship due to poor execution with lack of staff continuity planning and processing timeline among the most common issues. 

This should not come as a surprise, as the gift agreement process remains manual and error-prone at many organizations. The number of steps in the process adds to its complexity - and large gifts can take as much as 18 months to guide through the process, including gathering inputs, internal reviews, negotiations and signature by multiple parties. Incorrect pledge agreements have a major impact on the amount of time and work required by the team and the institution’s ability to close the pledge itself:

Impact of Incorrect Pledge Agreement

Contract lifecycle management (CLM) technology provides new ways to connect with donors and accept pledges, it also plays a critical role in helping reduce risks associated with pledge management. Teams can prevent costly mistakes, such as sending repeated or incorrect requests, by standardizing and automating agreements. In fact, 60% of advancement services professionals at educational institutes reported that the top risk to their ability to create and process pledges is agreements having outdated language. 

Universities can also create language libraries to make sure that gifts have standard clauses so that they won’t have issues accessing funds due to conditions in gifts - or - lose funding for critical scholarships if wording is too narrow. This is especially important right now, as institutions work to help students get access to scholarships and funding.

CLM technology also enhances efficiency for overburdened employees and provides greater visibility into gift status - advancement services professionals reported that their top frustration with pledge management was lack of visibility into gift status. Automating manual tasks and complex workflows streamlines the gift agreement process, reduces the time required from staff and helps maintain business continuity as teams evolve.

Finally, contract management can help to accelerate agreement processing time: speeding up the gift intake processes by enabling advancement teams to quickly identify and address approval and review bottlenecks with greater agreement visibility and reporting.

With the Docusign Agreement Cloud for Higher Education, universities and colleges benefit from:

  • Increased efficiency and ease of use for gift officers, advancement services and donors by removing slow downs from the agreement process for improved overall performance
  • Increased accuracy, identifying language with gift restrictions or contingencies, and reduced mistakes, improving efficiency of the gift agreement process and accelerating intake of critical revenue
  • Improved reporting and increased visibility across teams, reducing slow downs and improving overall efficiency in revenue generation and intake

To learn more, check out our whitepaper on Preparing for the Future of Higher Education.


1Docusign/Qualtrics primary research; 12/24/20 to 1/19/21; n 103 advancement professionals