In College Fund Raising, ‘Billion’ Is Becoming More Commonplace

Southern Methodist University recently joined the growing ranks of institutions engaged in billion-dollar fund-raising campaigns. After raising $780-million during its Second Century campaign, trouncing its initial goal of $750-million with two years left to go, SMU’s Board of Trustees voted last month to raise the official goal of the campaign to $1-billion by its end, in 2015.

A billion dollars is a staggering sum in almost any context. Yet it is becoming more and more common in higher-education fund raising.

In June, Rice University announced that it had surpassed its $1-billion campaign goal. In May the University of Virginia announced that it had surpassed its $3-billion target. The Johns Hopkins University is in the midst of a $4.5-billion campaign. The University of Southern California’s precedent-setting $6-billion campaign, announced in 2011, has since been outstripped for ambition by Harvard University’s recently announced $6.5-billion campaign.

New York University announced last week that it had launched a campaign to raise $1-billion for financial aid alone.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy on Monday released its annual Philanthropy 400 survey, tracking the most successful fund-raising organizations in the United States. Among its revelations: Stanford University raised more than $1-billion in the most recent fiscal year ($1,034,848,797, to be exact), a 46-percent increase over its 2012 total, making it the seventh-most-successful fund-raising entity in the survey. (Harvard, the next-most-successful university, raised more than $650-million, a 7-percent decrease from last year, putting it at 21st. There’s a full, sortable table here.)

A billion-dollar-a-year pace shouldn’t be a surprise, given the recent success of Stanford’s five-year, $6.2-billion Stanford Campaign, which concluded in 2012. Still, clearly the stakes are rising for ambitious universities, and the fund raisers who help them meet their goals.

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