- Large gifts to colleges and universities across the country hit an all-time high of $6.18B in FY2016, according to a March analysis by fundraising consulting firm Marts & Lundy.
- The 194 gifts of $10M or more last year was significantly higher than the pre-recession total of 124. Of these, 23 topped $50M, a decrease over the previous year.
- The news comes at the same time institutions institutions are trying to deal with decreased alumni giving, persistent struggles to reach young alumni, but a forecast report by the same firm projects 3.6% growth in giving in 2017, and 3.8% growth in 2018. Donations from individuals/households and estates are projected to comprise 79% of all gifts in the next two years.
The report's author notes presidential elections impact larger gift plans more than smaller ones, which he says could have contributed to the slowing down of donations over $50M. With individual bequests, like University of Oregon alumnus Phil Knight's $500M gift to his alma mater, carrying much of the total in some states, there is a definite concentration of resources. For the majority of schools, while these are fun numbers to examine, the benefits of such numbers are hardly felt on campus.
Institutions of all size, however, can focus efforts on renewing a giving interest among alumni, particularly young alumni. Increasingly, young alumni are graduating with growing amounts of student debt, which means not just less giving to their alma maters, but putting off on other major purchases, like buying houses. But there has been a lot of success with social media campaigns like those to give back an amount equal to the graduation year around reunions and homecoming, many of which are completely driven by recent alumni independent of any input from the advancement office. Social media campaigns are low-cost and their public nature encourages giving by others. Advancement officials are often focused on larger asks, even in alumni outreach, which leaves many out of the giving efforts.
While it is critical to continue to go after the large gifts, institutions should divert some resources to developing a culture of giving among current students and recent alumni. While recent graduates might bristle at the idea of even a $250 one-time gift, an ask of, say, $20.07 for 2007 graduates preparing for their 10-year reunion, even if posited as a monthly contribution, is much more palatable and yields almost as much as the original $250 ask. Something as simple as updating graduates' addresses and email addresses can make a huge difference in the success of capital campaigns. And identifying a few alumni champions who have influence with their employers or co-workers, or who have large social media networks they might be able to leverage for the university's benefit is a way to expand the reach of the advancement office's efforts without spending more on outreach and marketing.