Fund Raising

Benchmark Survey Finds a Continued Rise in Giving to Colleges

October 20, 2014

Wall Street may have had a rough spell recently, but longer-term growth in the national economy and strong gains in the stock market drove fund-raising gains last year at universities and colleges across the country.

Many higher-education institutions reported sizable increases in donations in 2013 as part of The Chronicle of Philanthropy's Philanthropy 400, a report that tallies the giving to 400 of the largest nonprofit groups in the United States. Over all, gifts rose 10.8 percent in 2013 to those listed on the survey.

The report said many nonprofits, including colleges, are taking advantage of the improved economy to court wealthy donors.

Indiana University at Bloomington hired 10 regional fund raisers as it prepares for a new capital campaign. The university saw contributions grow by $4.6-million, to more than $158-million, in its 2014 fiscal year, which ended on June 30.

Likewise, affluent donors helped Georgetown University reach the $1-billion mark in a $1.5-billion campaign this year. Among those donations: $100-million from Frank H. McCourt Jr., a real-estate investor and alumnus, that will push Georgetown’s fund-raising returns to more than $200-million this year, according to R. Bartley Moore, Georgetown’s vice president for advancement.

While the recent volatility of the stock market could have some higher-education fund raisers worried, Barlow T. Mann, chief operating officer at the Sharpe Group, a fund-raising consulting company, said that as long as the ups and downs in the market do not turn into a broader economic crisis, giving will keep growing.

"Education fund raising is picking up again," Mr. Mann said. "A lot of campaigns that were put on the back burner are moving forward, and major gift-giving initiatives are amped up as donors that have done well in their careers or investments in the stock market are beginning to feel more comfortable making larger gifts again."

While universities like Stanford and Harvard top the list of colleges on the Philanthropy 400, it’s not just the elite that are cashing in. Kansas State University’s fund raising grew 43 percent from 2012 to 2013, up to $108-million last year.

John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, said the improving economy had an effect on higher-education institutions of all types, including community colleges, which have been doing more fund raising in recent years due in part to state cuts in education spending.

"Everyone is benefiting," he said. "This rising tide is lifting all ships."

In all, he said, the rebound in philanthropic support speaks to the ties universities and colleges were able to sustain with donors during the rough years of the recession.

"The fact colleges and universities hung in there and maintained relationships with donors, who might not have been able to make major gifts at the time, has proven an important strategy, and institutions are reaping the benefits now that the economy is recovering," said Mr. Lippincott.

Holly Hall and Peter Panepento contributed to this article.