Donations to Colleges Are Slumping

Graph of donations to colleges in 2007. Source: CAE

Graph of donations to colleges in 2007. Source: CAE

By Brendan Sherwood

Donations to colleges have fallen due to the economy after reaching record highs last year. According to The New York Times, a recent survey by the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) showed that donations to colleges in 2008 had grown 6.2 percent from the previous year, totaling $31.6 billion.

These numbers may look reassuring, but most of last year’s donations went to a small group of elite universities like Harvard, Columbia and Yale, while most others actually received fewer donations than the previous year.

According to Jeanine Thompson, Director of Annual Giving at Marist College, the college raised $1.3 million for the Marist Fund in the 2008 fiscal year. This was the college’s second best year for donations, following 2007, which was its best year ever.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the CAE survey’s director, Ann E. Kaplan, “Even at institutions that reported healthy gains in fiscal 2008, advancement professionals told us they had ‘hit a wall’ in January 2009 and that the decline was substantial.”

“We’re doing a lot of cultivating right now,” said Thompson, meaning they are campaigning more to raise money for the college. This includes one-on-one campaigning as well as direct mail and phone-a-thons with trustees, alumni, parents, and friends of the college. The need for more campaigning is mainly due to the economy, which is causing alumni to be more “cautious” with their money.

While it’s possible that donations will continue to drop, the CAE is unwilling to speculate. According to Kaplan, “If you’re going to forecast, you’re supposed to stick to the data. Based purely on reviewing the available data, you wouldn’t anticipate things to plummet in 2009. But the data show something milder than what we intuit is going to happen. If your intuition tells you the data might not be predictive, but you don’t have more to go on, it’s silly to try to speculate.”

Thompson remains optimistic and said that in regards to campaigning for donations, Marist College is “giving more TLC right now” and that there’s a “bright future when it comes to fundraising.” For more information about giving to Marist College, click here.

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