Contributions to Colleges Drop 12%

Decline is steepest in history of survey by Council for Aid to Education. Alumni giving rate drops to all-time low of 10%.
February 3, 2010

With the economy in decline, charitable contributions to colleges and universities fell 11.9 percent in 2009, the steepest decline since the Council for Aid to Education started collecting national data on fund raising in 1969.

The contribution total is still significant -- $27.85 billion. But most categories of giving were down sharply. The 20 institutions that raised the most money during the year continued to dominate the field. While they represented only 1.9 percent of survey participants, their contributions made up 26.2 percent of all gifts to higher education. But their rate of decline from the previous year -- 11.8 percent -- was only a fraction better than the overall decline.

Giving was down particularly among private bachelor's institutions (off by 18.3 percent). Among the types of giving, capital gifts (for endowments, buildings, property, etc.) were down by 25 percent, while giving for general operating support (typically through the annual fund) was down by less than 1 percent.

Ann E. Kaplan, who is director of the survey, said that the results reinforced that 2009 was a difficult year not only for colleges but for "individuals and institutions that care about them."

Beyond the totals, fund raisers are also very concerned about the data in the report about alumni giving rates, which fell to 10 percent for the year, the lowest level ever recorded. Last year's figure was 11 percent and the year before was 11.7 percent.

Summary Figures on Contributions to Colleges, 2009

Sector Average Per Institution 1-Year % Change in Average Support Alumni Participation Rate 1-Year Change in Alumni Participation (% points) Average Alumni Gift Size 1-Year % Change in Average Gift Size
Research/doctoral -- private $113,617,000 -9.7% 15.3% -0.9 $1,918 -15.0%
Research/doctoral -- public $65,136,000 -13.2% 9.6% -1.0 $924 -11.4%
Master's -- private $7,890,000 -6.7% 10.3% -1.2 $754 -9.3%
Master's -- public $5,153,000 -13.6% 5.4% -0.6 $336 -31.1%
Baccalaureate -- private $9,524,000 -18.8% 22.2% -1.7 $1,030 -14.3%
Baccalaureate -- public $4,094,000 -3.5% 6.1% -1.4 $699 -14.1%
Community colleges $1,233,000 -19.3% 1.0% +0.2 $287 +21.2%
Total $23,070,000 -11.2% 10.0% -1.0 $1,085 -13.8%

John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, said he wasn't surprised that the numbers were down, but that the depth of the decline was a surprise. "We're in unprecedented territory," he said, both because of the severity of the economic difficulties and the volatility of campus conditions.

The decline in participation by alumni is of particular concern, he said. For a number of years, he noted, fund raisers have attributed declines in alumni giving rates to the increased effectiveness of tracking down alumni and including them in databases. So the issue, they said, was the inclusion of more alumni in the total, not a lessening of the willingness to give. While those efforts at identifying alumni continue, it now appears clear that there is an actual decline in participation rates, Lippincott said. And the importance of giving patterns can't be overstated, he said. "The alumni who make those small gifts today will be making the big gifts 20 years from now," he said.

Lippincott urged colleges to pay attention to what younger donors want to support. They may be more focused on "greening the campus" or student aid than were previous generations. Further, he said that in an era when many young alumni don't have a lot of disposable income, it's important to be clear that small gifts add up to make a difference. Colleges face a danger, he said, "that in this era of mega-campaigns, when we talk about $4 billion campaigns or $400 million campaigns that someone who can only make a $25 gift may feel that it's not really going to matter. We need to take the emphasis off the dollar figure and keep it on the idea of giving."

Across donor types, he said, the current economy may make it more difficult to attract gifts for endowed funds or for buildings, but the rationale for student aid gifts may appeal.

Next year should see some improvement in totals, Lippincott said. A number of institutions that held off on campaign launches in 2009 are getting ready to start up, he said. In some cases, however, he said that there is "unbundling" going on, where institutions will opt not to have a billion-dollar overall campaign, but will have a smaller campaign focused on a key issue, such as student aid.

A look at the top fund raisers nationally shows how 2009 was generally a bad year for development, but was unevenly so. Of the top 20 colleges in funds raised, three pulled in more in 2009 than the year before, with Cornell University showing the largest gain (9.1 percent) and as a result rising from ninth to third on the list. The University of Washington and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also saw gains in 2009, increasing funds raised by 6.9 and 2.3 percent, respectively. Stanford University kept the top spot, despite seeing its total drop by 18.5 percent. The largest fall was by Yale University, down 26.4 percent.

Top 20 Universities in Contributions in 2009

University 2009 Total 1-Year % Change 2009 Rank 2008 Rank
Stanford University $ 640,107,311 -18.5% 1 1
Harvard University $ 601,636,000 -7.5% 2 2
Cornell University $ 446,749,543 +9.1% 3 9
University of Pennsylvania $ 439,768,922 -7.6% 4 5
Johns Hopkins University $ 433,387,640 -3.5% 5 7
Columbia University $ 413,358,859 -16.5% 6 3
University of Southern California $ 368,981,377 -9.8% 7 10
Yale University $ 358,147,948 -26.4% 8 4
University of California at Los Angeles $ 351,688,985 -23.0% 9 6
University of Wisconsin at Madison $ 341,805,035 -16.7% 10 8
New York University $ 334,787,429 -13.6% 11 12
University of Washington $ 323,545,197 +6.9% 12 18
Massachusetts Institute of Technology $ 319,074,750 +2.3% 13 16
Duke University $ 301,647,088 -21.8% 14 13
University of California at San Francisco $ 300,424,315 -17.9% 15 14
University of Minnesota $ 272,353,115 -11.5% 16 17
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill $ 270,111,159 -7.6% 17 19
University of Michigan $ 263,329,921 -21.0% 18 15
University of California at Berkeley $ 255,095,124 -10.6% 19 20
University of Chicago $ 248,804,299 -3.2% 20 24

Here are the top five fund raisers for 2009 in other categories.

Top Fund Raisers -- Liberal Arts Colleges, 2009

College Total
Bowdoin College $59,318,730
Le Moyne College $45,084,469
Smith College $43,718,442
Wellesley College $38,242,072
Trinity College $36,417,373

Top Fund Raisers -- Community Colleges, 2009

College Total
Santa Barbara City College $7,060,667
Lane Community College $5,189,544
Westchester Community College $5,096,280
Santa Rosa Junior College $4,826,775
Houston Community College $4,788,125


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