News and analysis
January 28, 2015

Giving to Colleges Rises Nearly 11%

Kris Snibbe, Harvard University

Harvard President Drew Faust speaks during The Harvard Campaign launch inside Sanders Theatre at Harvard University.

Charitable giving to U.S. colleges and universities has reached a historic high for the second straight year, according to a survey released on Wednesday by the Council for Aid to Education.

Colleges raised $37.45-billion in 2014, the highest amount recorded since the survey started in 1957. That is a 10.8-percent increase in giving since last year—the largest gain since 2000.

The annual survey, "Voluntary Support of Education," is considered the most comprehensive available measure of private giving to colleges. The council tracks giving by individuals, companies, and foundations, counting only gifts that have been received—not just promised—during the academic fiscal year. In 2014 it surveyed 1,018 institutions.

During the fiscal year, gains in the stock market proved to be good news for academe. The four major stock indexes—the Dow Jones industrial average, the Nasdaq Composite, the New York Stock Exchange Composite, and Standard & Poor’s 500—increased by double-digit percentage rates over the period.

Bruce W. Flessner, a fund-raising consultant with Bentz Whaley Flessner, said the increase in charitable giving can be attributed to wealth, not income.

Colleges are "more and more dependent on wealth than on your average graduate getting a raise next year," he said. "What’s really driving this is a huge explosion of wealth."

More Gifts of Art

Capital-purpose gifts, which tend to be major gifts like endowments, increased 15.1 percent.

Five institutions reported receiving single gifts of $100-million or more: the University of Texas at Austin, Colby College, the University of the Pacific, Northwestern University, and Emory University. In 2013, just three institutions reported gifts crossing that mark.

Two of those nine-digit gifts in 2014 were gifts of art. UT-Austin received art valued at $216.62-million; an art donation to Colby College was valued at $102.6-million. Some of the University of Pacific’s $115.6-million gift also included art and funds to maintain the institution’s collection.

In September Stanford University announced that it had received a single gift of 121 works of art by 86 artists. (That gift will be included on the 2015 survey.)

Gifts of art might be increasing—or becoming more valuable—but there are not enough data to say with certainty that there’s a trend, said Ann E. Kaplan, director of the survey.

"Institutions certainly have the stability and the infrastructure to maintain very valuable art collections and also make them available to the public, not just to their students," Ms. Kaplan said.

Giving from all sources increased in 2014. For instance, giving from alumni rose by 9.4 percent, and the average alumnus’s gift increased by 25.5 percent, to $1,535.

Overall, though, alumni participation continued to decline. In 2013, 8.7 percent of alumni donated; in 2014, that figure dropped to 8.3 percent. It is easier today for colleges to obtain alumni contact information, which has expanded the potential donor pool, the report said. When that pool increases more than the number of donors increases, alumni participation declines. Curtis R. Simic, president emeritus of the Indiana University Foundation, said it’s challenging to increase the number of donors significantly from year to year.

Mr. Flessner said the 2014 fund-raising totals show the power of a big campaign. Most of the institutions that topped the list are in the middle of ambitious fund-raising projects.

Harvard University raised the most in 2014—$1.16 billion. In 2013 the university kicked off a $6.5-billion fund-raising campaign.

It’s hard to predict what giving in 2015 will look like, Ms. Kaplan said, since the academic fiscal year still has five months to go. Major gifts to universities are notoriously difficult to predict.

Still, the economy is strong, so giving is likely to continue to increase. "Whether it’ll increase double-digit amounts, I don’t know," she said.

The council will publish the full report in the spring.

Deeper: See a sortable table of money raised by colleges in the 2014 fiscal year at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Madeline Will is a reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education.