OVERVIEW

Securing major gifts from individuals has never been more important to the survival and growth of colleges and universities. And yet no aspect of fundraising is more challenging and artful. No two major donors are exactly alike, and every major gift reflects a unique history in regard to the donor's motives and passions, that person's relationship to the institution, and how he or she interacts with fundraisers and other people affiliated with the institution. Even couples who make a single major gift have different philanthropic motivations and experiences in doing so.

Inside Philanthropy is working to develop a rigorous understanding of the trends shaping high-end giving to colleges and universities, which has reached stratospheric heights after at least two difficult years of decline in the Great Recession. We want to know who's giving, who's getting, what the money is for, how the gifts happen, how commitments are structured, strategies fundraisers use to prompt donors' generosity, and more. We have analyzed hundreds of major gifts to different colleges and universities, and we scrutinize new gifts nearly every day. This guide shares what we are learning, broken down by different areas where we see regular action. The information here is being constantly updated and expanded, so check back often. 

AREAS OF GIVING

ATHLETICS

Big gifts for new stadiums make the news, but universities raise serious money for all sorts of athletic programs and facilities. 

BUSINESS SCHOOLS

Business schools have some of the wealthiest alumni, but gifts to these schools actually come from a variety of other sources too. 

HUMANITIES

Philosophy, literature, writing, religion — all these areas have attracted major gifts, with a majority of the funds earmarked for endowing chairs in the humanities. 

JOURNALISM

Big gifts to J-schools and communications departments are hard to come by, and media moguls are more likely to make them than alumni. 

LAW SCHOOLS

While wealthy alumni are predictably the main givers to law schools, the purpose and structure of these gifts vary widely.

MEDICAL SCHOOLS

Medical schools draw some of the largest major gifts on campus.

MEDICAL RESEARCH

Plenty of wealthy donors are interested in supporting medical breakthroughs, which is good news for colleges and universities. 

PERFORMING ARTS

Major gifts for performing arts come from a surprising array of different donors and fund many kinds of programs and facilities. 

PUBLIC POLICY & POLITICS

Policy schools have become magnets for major gifts, supporting programs and faculty focused on a wide variety of issues. 

SCHOLARSHIPS

Aiding needy students and promoting particular areas of study with scholarships are still popular among major donors but may not be as enticing as other types of giving.  

SCIENCE RESEARCH

Aside from medical research, bankrolling other types of scientific breakthroughs can be super alluring to donors, especially if schools can show a strong plan for success. 

STEM EDUCATION

People with fortunes in science or technology are among the best donors for science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, endeavors, but other donors are gravitating to this area. 

VISUAL ARTS

Campus arts may not attract the big money that the nation's leading museums do, but the gifts can still be substantial.