Pandemic affects campaign, too

JMU Nation turns out to support students anyway


SUMMARY: Despite financial uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, JMU donors supported students generously in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020.

Following JMU’s largest-ever year of giving at $23 million in fiscal year 2019, donor momentum behind Unleashed: The Campaign for James Madison University slowed in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

JMU finished the fiscal year that ended on June 30 at $18.4 million in private gifts, the university’s sixth straight year above the $18 million mark. Prior to Unleashed, the three-year rolling average of giving to the university had hovered around $10 million per year.

private giving to jmu 2012-2020

With three strong quarters in fiscal year 2020, and a campaign total reaching $170 million, the Unleashed goal of $200 million by 2022 was seemingly well within reach, said Nick Langridge (’00, ’07M, ’14Ph.D.), vice president for university advancement. In fact, JMU’s fundraising program was cited earlier this year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education with a national award for overall performance.

With the change in the economic forecast, however, prospects for reaching the campaign goal now appear less certain. “In early spring, we saw prospective donors engage in a period of pause and reflection while dealing with the uncertainty around COVID-19,” Langridge said. “Then, when we needed them most, our donors showed up for student scholarships and financial aid in response to this crisis.”

Donors help Dukes stay Dukes 

During May, JMU donors around the world contributed $759,000 during the Madison for Keeps challenge to provide immediate emergency scholarship aid for students at risk of not returning to JMU because of economic hardship caused by COVID-19.

Donors came together on May 5 for #GivingTuesdayNow, raising more than $500,000 in 24 hours to help Dukes stay Dukes, prompting, and then surpassing, a new $750,000 goal for the month. More than 2,100 generous alumni, faculty and staff members, parents and friends gave. 

As a result, the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships awarded these emergency funds over the summer, and JMU students are continuing their Madison Experience this year.

“The JMU Nation responded immediately and enthusiastically to help our Dukes stay Dukes,” Langridge said. “This is exactly the kind of extraordinary response JMU needs right now during these challenging times.”

The Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships continues to receive emergency scholarship requests from JMU families dealing with the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the students’ need has increased significantly from earlier estimates, requiring the university to increase Madison for Keeps awards to an average of nearly $6,500 per student.  This has meant that approximately 115 students, instead of 150 as first thought, are receiving awards from the funds raised during the May drive.

Donors key to sustaining JMU

Right now, student scholarship need has intensified while the university’s means of support are under stress, Langridge said. The pandemic has prompted reductions in funding from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Refunds to students after the university’s move to online classes this past spring, as well as looming threats to future enrollment levels, add to the financial pressure. 

“Our donors who are in a position to give have always stepped forward,” Langridge said. “As we head into fiscal year 2021, frankly, we are counting on the philanthropy of our faithful to serve as a stabilizing force to bolster our rise above the chaos of this pandemic.”

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Published: Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Last Updated: Friday, October 30, 2020

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