Higher education giving hits all-time high in 2019

Leaders should expand outreach to women as they gain increasing power and influence
By: | February 5, 2020
Higher ed fundraising trends Virginia Commonwealth University students thank donors in an effort to show how gifts make an impact.Virginia Commonwealth University students thank donors in an effort to show how gifts make an impact.

Higher education fundraising hit a record $49.6 billion, driven by an increase in donations from organizations and foundations, according to the latest Voluntary Support of Education survey by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

The bulk of the increase in fundraising from organizations came from a single contribution—Michael Bloomberg’s $1.8 billion gift, through his foundation, to the endowment at Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater.

Meanwhile, gifts from individuals dropped.

The report also found the growth occurred at three types of institutions: private and public research/doctoral institutions and public baccalaureate schools. All other institutions reported a decline in gifts.


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Higher ed leaders should consider using new fundraising tools, such as impact investing, online campaigns and cause marketing, according to the March 2019 TIAA Institute report, “Key Issues Facing Higher Education Philanthropy.”

Leaders should also expand outreach to women as they gain increasing power and influence in philanthropy, the report said.

The TIAA Institute’s report also noted that, in 2017, “nearly half of all donations from the 50 top donors in the U.S. went to colleges and universities.”

The age of online ambassadors

Colleges and universities can focus more on mobile-friendly platforms to make giving more convenientUniversity Business reported this past summer.

2020 Outlook

In its 2020 report on the higher education sector, Moody’s Investors Service changed its outlook to stable from negative.

“More comprehensive universities with diversified revenue streams will continue to outperform tuition-dependent institutions,” Moody’s wrote. “Business conditions over the next 12-18 months will remain difficult for a notable portion of rated institutions and modest tuition gains will weigh on overall revenue growth.”

Growth in state funding and endowment income will provide stability, Moody’s also wrote.


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To aid this process, leaders should deploy alumni volunteers—also known as ambassadors—to use social media to promote fundraising efforts. Schools should also organize giving days with elements of gamification, allow donors to target their gifts, and simplify forms, UB reported.

“Giving circles”—a concept that’s more common in the broader world of philanthropy—are also making their way into higher education, UB reported. A giving circle is a group of people who come together to support a cause.

Eastern Michigan University is receiving $3.5 million from a group of alumni called GameAbove to support student services and faculty development. The organization’s 16-member advisory board is diverse, comprising former student-athletes, current entrepreneurs and successful business people, and EMU coaches.


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