News and analysis
June 08, 2010

Giving to Education Groups Declined 3.2% Last Year, Report Says

A humorous video called “I Give a Latté,” sparked donations to Juniata College.

Donations to colleges, schools, and education organizations dropped by 3.2 percent last year, to $40-billion, which was a much less-severe decline than the 9-percent plunge in 2008.

Colleges faced a sharp drop in giving last year, according to the Council for Aid to Education, which reported a nearly 12-percent decline. But many institutions say they are starting to see signs of recovery, in part the results of efforts to step up face-to-face interactions with current and potential donors and make creative use of the Internet.

At Stuart Hall School, in Staunton, Va., donations rose slightly from 2008 to 2009. But as the recession wore on, enrollment steadily decreased and the school found itself last fall in danger of closing for the first time in its 167-year history. Officials there decided the best course of action was to be honest with alumni, as well as faculty and staff members, about the school’s needs.

Alumni have since responded with a torrent of donations this year. Through a special fund-raising Web site created by an alumna, the school has raised $618,000 in annual-fund giving so far for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2010, a significant increase from the $345,000 it raised in fiscal year 2009, according to Margaret Wood, the school’s director of development. In addition, the fund attracted donations from 40 percent more people this year than it did last year, said Ms. Wood.

Other institutions benefited from Internet appeals to small and mid-level donors.

At Juniata College, in Huntingdon, Pa., an irreverent video called “I Give a Latté”—featuring the college’s president and its students—helped bolster donations and made 2009 one of the best fund-raising years the institution had in the past decade, according to Gabriel J. Welsch, the college’s vice president of advancement.

In the video, Thomas R. Kepple Jr., Juniata’s president, is shown in his office, crafting an e-mail appeal asking alumni to give the college the $5 they would normally spend to buy a cup of coffee. Viewers then see student actors playing people in cafes and coffee stands handing their tall, take-out cups of coffee, in drive-through-window fashion, to an increasingly caffeine-addled Mr. Kepple, who ends the clip looking slightly dazed and nearly buried in hundreds of cups of coffee.

Posted on Juniata’s Web site, alumni were alerted to the video through an e-mail blast, and it was also posted on the college’s Facebook page. Over five days, the video brought in more than $29,000.

Other colleges had less success raising money last year. Among them: Hendrix College, in Conway, Ark., which raised $2-million less than the $14.6-million it collected in 2008. The college says it suffered as donors who were paying off pledges decided to reduce or delay their 2009 payments until 2010 or beyond. The institution says it is stepping up promotion of bequests and other gifts, in the hopes that donors feeling financial pain will be willing to make such commitments.