US university donations up 6.3 per cent in 2017

Rise is driven by increase in gifts from alumni, says survey 

February 7, 2018
Donation money jar
Source: iStock

The value of donations given to US universities increased significantly in the past financial year, driven by a surge in gifts from alumni, figures show.

US universities and colleges raised $43.6 billion (£31.2 billion) in philanthropic income in the fiscal year ending June 2017, up 6.3 per cent from the previous year and 3.7 per cent after adjusting for inflation. The rate of growth between 2015 and 2016 was 1.7 per cent.

It is the highest fundraising total recorded by the Voluntary Support of Education survey, which has been conducted annually by the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) since 1957.

Gifts from alumni rose by 14.5 per cent between 2016 and 2017 and reached $11.37 billion, after an 8.5 per cent decline the previous year, according to the study. These donations accounted for 26 per cent of all philanthropic income, making alumni the second-largest source of support. The highest proportion of donations came from foundations (30 per cent).

Gifts for capital purposes, such as endowments and buildings, increased by 12.3 per cent overall. Alumni support in this area jumped by 16.7 per cent in a sample of 663 institutions that provided data on that subject.

Those same institutions reported that alumni contributions for current operations increased by 8.7 per cent, compared with 2.6 per cent overall.

Harvard University once again topped the list of the institutions that received the most money through philanthropy, with $1.28 billion raised.

Stanford University was the only other institution to secure more than $1 billion in donations, raising $1.13 billion in total.

Gifts to the top 20 institutions grew by 10.5 per cent to $12.23 billion in 2017. This makes up 28 per cent of all universities’ total charitable income.

Ann Kaplan, vice-president at CAE and executive director of the survey, said that charitable support for colleges and universities is likely to increase in 2018 if the stock market “continues to gain ground" through to June 2018 – the end of the fiscal year.

However, future donations may decline in the wake of new legislation. In December, US president Donald Trump signed into law the Republican tax bill, which includes an annual 1.4 per cent excise tax on private university endowments valued at $500,000 (£370,000) or more per full-time student and an increase in the standard deduction – the amount of household income that is not taxable if no other deductions are taken.

There are fears that this would dramatically reduce the size and the number of charitable contributions that are made each year to universities and other organisations.

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