Why college advancement tops list for wealthy philanthropy

A growing number of these families are also speeding up the timeline of their gifts
By: | February 18, 2020
In fundraising and advancement, wealthy families seek immediate impact on college access, career readiness, scholarships, faculty support and community colleges. (gettyimages.com: ikryannikovgmailcom)In fundraising and advancement, wealthy families seek immediate impact on college access, career readiness, scholarships, faculty support and community colleges. (gettyimages.com: ikryannikovgmailcom)

College advancement and fundraising rank No. 1 for wealthy families looking for causes to support, beating out health, the environment, and arts and culture, according to a pair of studies just released by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

A growing number of these families are also speeding up the timeline of their gifts so they can see a quicker impact. In the past, these families were more focused on leaving a philanthropic legacy, the studies show.

These reports delve further into how families around the world involve younger generations in their philanthropy, the vehicles for giving, the top reasons for giving, and the impact of time horizons.

Student access to higher education, career readiness, scholarships and faculty support have been among the leading areas philanthropists want to support, with community colleges also receiving increasing focus, says a study released last fall by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and TIAA.


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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.

New campus approaches to advancement

Four years ago, Albion College in Michigan “blew up its fundraising program” because donors had changed their focus, Robert Anderson, the school’s vice president for alumni relations and development, wrote in Univesity Business in December.


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“Today’s donors are less loyal. They may be more outcome-focused or they may be more experience-focused,” Anderson wrote. “For both of these new donor trends, an integrated, personalized and meaningful engagement strategy beats sales-driven metric fundraising programs.”

Since the shift,  average annual fundraising has grown from $6 million to almost $19 million annually. And the college has repeatedly broken its record for major gifts, and now averages a seven-figure gift every other month, Anderson wrote.

“We wanted more from our alumni than dollars,” Anderson wrote. “We wanted their connections, their help in recruiting students, their technical abilities, and even their help in rebuilding Albion’s host community.”


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