Big research institutions capture most of the growth in fundraising as its graduates hit the jackpot.
A handful of recent opinion pieces and blogs lament the huge gifts that have gone to the big research universities.
- Steve O. Michael, vice provost at Kent State, asks in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Why Give to a College That Already Has Enough? (subscription only, but you may be able to find it here).
- Walter M. Kimbrough of Philander Smith College (EIN 71-0239729 Form 990) in Little Rock vents that a $400 million mega-gift to Columbia University (EIN 13-5598093 Form 990) doesn't amount to philanthropy when only a sixth of the students there are on Pell grants.
- Both of which generate applause from blogger Margaret Soltan in her University Diaries.
Prof. Michael provides this noteworthy datum:
The 10 wealthiest institutions in the Council for Aid to Education's survey accounted for half of the total growth in private donations during the 2006 fiscal year — meaning that about $1.2-billion of last year's $2.4-billion increase in private donations went to last year's top 10 fund raisers.
Unfortunately, those results (from the Voluntary Support for Education survey) aren't available on line (if you are interested, you can order it here), but some summary data has appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I have summarized the summary here (click on image for larger view in pop-up window.
Here you see the issue in a different perspective. The big research universities are the big money makers, to be sure, but the biggest gains on a percentage basis last year were the liberal arts and specialized schools. The only losers were the two-year public colleges, and they are numerous enough to pull down the whole 2-year institution sector.
So the complainers are not making a fair comparison. Research universities pull in the contribution dollars because they are in a different business (research) that requires more investment and operating expense. And because it's their grads who are winding up with the big fortunes to give away.
But, just as important, they are in the business of raising serious money in a way that small institutions need to emulate. Last year, the Chronicle of Education asked another critical question, Why Are Community Colleges So Slow to Jump on the Fund-Raising Bandwagon? Rather than complain about the big gifts (that a small institution would be unable to deal with in the first place), smaller institutions need to focus on their fundraising abilities. If they have a philanthropic case to be made (and the editorialists suggest that they do), then it should just be a matter of communicating that message with sufficient frequency, focus, and follow-up.