Giving in the United States exceeded more than $373 billion in 2015, the second consecutive year of record-breaking philanthropy for the nation at large. Colleges and universities accounted for more than $48 billion of that total, with nearly a third of those gifts going to just 20 elite campuses like Stanford University and Harvard University.
But what do donors seek in separating good proposals from great ones? And how do they determine funding goals that make an impact at institutional levels and beyond?
According to billionaire philanthropist Charles Koch, it is simply identifying organizations which want to make life better by empowering free will and enterprise. He recently spoke with a cohort of students at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Annual Leadership Development Institute in Washington D.C. during the conference’s closing reception, which the Koch Foundation sponsored.
“I decided that I wanted to give as many people as possible ideas so that they could transform their lives. That’s been my motivation,” he said.
Koch’s philanthropic priorities extend from student scholarships to endowed chairs to fully-funded research institutions, and with his brother David, he has donated more than $50 million to more than 200 schools across 41 states.
Many of the foundation’s higher education initiatives focus on academic and research exploration of free market enterprise and political libertarianism. While controversial in some circles, Koch’s foundation continues to earn the respect and defense of organizations looking to support broadening sections of diverse students and institutions.
“What we advocate is a society of mutual benefit, not one of control, dependency and cronyism that is pitting groups against each other,” Koch said.
United Negro College Fund President and CEO Michael Lomax recently co-authored a USA Today editorial about the potential for social modeling between the two groups and their $29 million partnership for tuition assistance and career development.
“The success of this program lies in our shared vision that a mind — and a life — is a terrible thing to waste,” it said. “It is why our partnership’s ultimate goal is to give students the opportunity to explore the values and skills of an entrepreneur, and better understand how an entrepreneurial mindset will benefit both them and their communities.”
The strategy behind attracting millions of dollars of support starts with relationships and ends with the ability to align passion with campus capacity. Nicholas Perkins, founder and CEO of Perkins Management Services Inc, recently said that his support of Howard University’s School of Business was fostered through both his status as a graduate of its executive MBA program, and the knowledge that institutional and corporate partnerships are necessary to help in building communities.
“Anytime that a minority company has an opportunity to partner with an historically black institution, that partnership should be the base from which growth and progress for that particular campus comes,” Perkins says. “So we always try to fit ourselves into that puzzle.”
Perkins, who has donated $1.1 million to his undergraduate alma mater Fayetteville State University and whose company serves more than 19,000 meals daily to 29 institutional clients throughout the country, says that business programs and entrepreneurial development are also central to his giving philosophy.
But other campuses are finding success by just tapping into the goodwill of graduates and stakeholders. At Miami University of Ohio, officials concluded a $500 million campaign in 2013 with back-to-back years of a $50 million in gifts and pledges between 2014 and 2015.
The gifts, of which $135 million was diverted to enhancing academic programming in media studies, writing and gerontology, laid a foundation for the university’s launch of the ‘Miami Plan,’ a 36-credit hour course mandate for all students to be immersed in and appreciative of the impact of liberal arts across all career paths.
“For me, people don’t expect a physicist to have such a passion for the liberal arts, but it had such a big impact on my life, my leadership style and my interests. I couldn’t be more enthusiastic in sharing how it helped me to learn about human flourishing and in thinking more holistically, which was super important to me in the physics world,” said Miami University of Ohio President Gregory Crawford, who served as vice-president and associate provost at the University of Notre Dame prior to his appointment in July.
“Many of our own alums and donors understand the value of the education provided to them, and they love what we’re doing with the Miami plan, so they freely invest in that vision.”