An Inching Increase in University Gifts During 2012

The Council for Aid to Education (CAE) announced some promising news last week. According to data from a voluntary survey of over 1,000 institutions nationwide, giving to universities increased overall by 2.3% from 2011 to 2012. CAE will publish a formal report on these results this spring. The folks who conducted the research remain optimistic, if a bit subdued, in their forward-looking statements. Ann E. Kaplan, the director of the survey, said "the signs are positive for 2013," barring any significant stomach pains in the national economy — but hesitated to get more specific. The scope of CAE's research, she acknowledges, has no way of accounting for year-to-year chaos factors, "including tax legislation, the incidence and value of major gifts, and the cases individual institutions advance for support.” 

The Daily Iowan attributed the increase to "a sense of financial security [that] is being restored across the nation." This might be a bit much. 2.3% is not an enormous jump, and it's really more like .2% if you feel Grinchy enough to factor inflation into it. To further the parade micturation, 2011 reported a gain of 8.2%.

While I would argue against CAE's new data as an occasion to get up and run naked through the streets, it does open up a few venues of interpretive discussion. Here are two: 

  • With total gifts of $9.15 billion in 2012, foundations gave more to universities that year than any other single source. Speaking to The Chronicle of Philanthropy about the report, Hartsook Companies Inc. board chairman Robert F. Hartsook concurs with Kaplan that this trend "illustrate[s] the growing importance of community foundations, whose members pool money to coordinate their investments." Individual donors may recently have become more trusting of these larger organizations with their money than in years past.
  • In 2012, "alumni participation—the percentage of alumni making gifts—declined, from 9.5 percent in 2011 to 9.2 percent in 2012," according to the report. For this figure, the implications are a bit muddier. Kaplan accounts for this drop by arguing that technology has granted universities the ability to keep better track of their alumni. If the total number of alumni on file has increased, that proportion makes the number of actual donors among them seem smaller in comparison. Fundraising consultant Bruce W. Flessner's explanation of the drop is a bit more grim: Older alumni "who graduated 50, 60, 70 years ago, who are statistically more likely to give...are dying off." Meanwhile, younger alumni graduate with too much debt to entertain their charitable impulses.