Posted , by Wendy McGrady, Executive Vice President. Topic: Giving USA, Higher Education.

As the pressure increases on institutional budgets and presidential performers, higher-ed development professionals have been required to step up their game. And it appears their efforts are paying off.

Last month, our president Keith Curtis, immediate past chair of Giving USA Foundation, shared with the big-picture findings of Giving USA 2016: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2015. The report showed a record level of giving in the United States—an estimated $373.25 billion. We were pleased to see that this total represented an overall 4.1% increase over 2014. As we look deeper into the report, there’s more good news for the education sector— and community colleges in particular.

Giving to education marked its sixth consecutive year of growth in 2015. Also of note:

• Giving to education experienced an average annual rate of growth of 6.4% in the last five-year period (2011 to 2015).

• Education was the third-fastest growing out of nine sectors.

• Fundraising results for public institutions of higher education were just slightly behind those for private institutions.

• It’s estimated that 70% of contributions to education in 2015 went to institutions of higher education. Similar studies and reports backing up the Giving USA findings:
– The Council for Aid to Education reported a 7.6% increase in charitable revenue to institutions of higher education for the 2014–2015 academic year.
– The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) reported steady fundraising results for 2015 and optimism for fundraising in 2016.
– In the Nonprofit Research Collaborative’s (NRC) Winter 2016 Nonprofit Fundraising Study, 64% of education organizations responding to the survey reported an increase in charitable contributions received between 2014 and 2015.


Donations to community colleges in particular grew in 2015, driven largely by increases in alumni engagement. Colleges and universities saw a 10% increase in alumni giving, while community colleges more than doubled the average total dollar amount given by alumni. According to a benchmarking study of 139 community colleges by Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE):

0.5% (2012) —> 0.9% (2015) — Increase in the percentage of individuals who made a donation to their community college alma mater.

$50,846 (2012) —> $117,659 (2015) — Increase in average total dollar amount given by alumni, representing 131% growth.

More educational institutions saw positive fundraising results in 2015, compared with 2014. Across the education sector, organizations of all types launched large-scale campaigns in 2015—43% of education organizations surveyed in a special campaign study by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative were engaged in capital, comprehensive or endowment campaigns as of August 2015, and another 18% were engaged in special campaigns. In addition, education had the greatest percentage of organizations reporting the highest campaign goals, with more than half (53%) of responding education organizations reporting a goal of $18 million or higher. Fundraising for capital purposes remained flat in fiscal year 2015.

Other reported increases in fundraising results between 2014 and 2015 included:

• 4.8% for public institutions

• 4.9% for private institutions

• 1.5% for community colleges

Three different reports noted positive results for giving to education organizations in 2015 via online methods. Higher-education organizations analyzed by Blackbaud experienced double-digit growth in online giving (15.2%). These institutions realized their greatest year-over-year monthly increases in online charitable revenue in the three-month period ending in January (16.8%), while growth slowed slightly in the three-month periods ending in March (11.8%) and September (12.2%).

Articulating your vision is key to receiving transformational gifts. Your case for support and detailed opportunities for philanthropic investment must be rooted in the overall vision for the institution and the expression of that vision by the president. It’s important to follow these steps:

1. Complete a strategic planning process that clearly communicates your institution’s vision and the goals that will implement this vision.

2. Determine the philanthropic investment priorities that are needed to achieve the vision, including current and aspirational needs.

3. Engage internal and external leaders in vetting these philanthropic priorities and illustrating the outcomes and impacts of transformational giving.

4. Cultivating alumni should also be a key focus. This is particularly challenging for community colleges, since some do not have accurate alumni data, and alumni loyalties often lean toward four-year institutions where they may have completed their degree. Start with prospecting for alumni donors by wealth screening your database. This will help you prioritize potential donors who might not have a current giving relationship with the college.

Then create individual cultivation plans for the best prospects. These plans should include having the right people making the connections, fostering the relationship and eventually making the ask. Remember, cultivation could take longer with alumni than with other types of prospects—they might have been disconnected from the college for years—but the payoff will be worth the effort.


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