Optimistic Fund-Raisers

College fund-raisers are getting more cash and commitments, but the smallest colleges are missing their targets, according to a new survey.

August 5, 2014

Top college fund-raisers are mostly optimistic about the future, but the poor colleges are getting poorer, according to a new survey of advancement officials at 335 North American institutions.

The survey is by Academic Impressions, which provides training conferences and webinars to higher education leaders. The survey, conducted online in June, focused on the most typical type of endowment fund: the small kind.

The institutions in the survey raised about $3.3 billion in the last budget year, compared to the roughly $34 billion that was raised nationally by colleges in the 2013 calendar year, according to an annual survey by the Council for Aid to Education. College budget years typically end in the summer, on June 30.

About 81 percent of the colleges surveyed raised $10 million or less last year. Only 4 percent raised over $50 million.

Twenty-nine percent of advancement officials said they did not meet their fund-raising goals in the budget year that ended this summer. Still, that means most colleges did meet their target, a good sign that is echoed by other reports on giving. And the recent market rebound has grown endowments and reassured some wealthy potential donors of their ability to give. 

About a fifth of the advancement professionals surveyed were at two-year colleges, 27 percent were at public four-year colleges, and 53 percent were at private four-year colleges.

The survey found that poor institutions are “getting poorer.”

“Smaller shops” – the term of art for fund-raising operations – “arguably those with the greatest resource challenges, are more likely to miss their fund raising targets,” the report concluded. “Given that alumni participation rates are steady to increasing at these institutions, the culprit is likely a decline in average gift amount -- or a too-ambitious goal.”

The smallest shops, those that raised less than $2.5 million last year, are “especially pursuing major gifts.” These fund-raising operations, mostly community colleges or small private colleges, struggled to meet their cash and pledge goals last year.

Overall, though, fund-raisers are optimistic about the future, the survey suggests. For the budget year that ends next summer, nearly 60 percent of advancement officials are looking to raise 10 percent more money from donors than they did this year. More than a quarter of advancement officials are looking to raise 25 percent more.

Academic Impressions differed slightly from the Council for Aid to Education in finding that fund-raisers were seeing a rise in the percentage of alumni giving. The council’s survey found a decline in the alumni participation rate, which is the number of alumni donors divided by the number of alumni an institution has a means of contacting.

But the view of the author of the council’s study has been that the decrease has more to do with the ease with which colleges can now locate donors – meaning that more alumni are being contacted, so even if more are giving, the percentage could fall – rather than a newfound disinclination to give.

The Academic Impressions survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

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