Donations to Yale drop

While institutions of higher education are receiving more donations today than ever before, total cash donations to Yale dropped by about 20 percent for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Cash contributions to Yale — including gifts made to the endowment, building construction and University operations — dropped from $543.9 million in 2012 to $444.2 million in 2013, according to the Council for Aid to Education’s annual fundraising survey. Yale came in ninth in the survey, while Stanford University topped the list for the ninth consecutive year with $931.6 million in gifts.

“Stanford is the envy of everybody right now,” Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill said. “They are raising money in tremendous ways and they’ve set a bar for all of us to aspire to keep raising more money and keep up with Stanford.”

Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill said the slight decline in donations to Yale does not necessarily indicate a long term trend, as alumni giving tends to fluctuate on a year-by-year basis because donors often fulfill commitments years after the initial pledge was made. Giving levels can also depend on the timing of fundraising campaigns, she added.

The $250 million gift by Charles Johnson ’54 — the largest gift in school history — was made in September and did not count toward the fiscal 2013 total.

Roger Benjamin, president of the Council for Aid to Education, said fiscal 2013 saw a marked increase in total gifts because of the strong performance of the stock market. As the assets of many alumni are invested in the stock market, economic growth increases their personal wealth, which leads them to give larger donations, he said.

Universities also tend to receive more gifts during capital campaigns, O’Neill said. During the Yale Tomorrow capital campaign that began in September 2006 and ended in June 2011, the University raised over $3.8 billion. In 2012, when the University received its second-highest cash donation total, 78 percent of those donations came from pledges made during the campaign.

Stanford benefitted in a similar way from its Stanford Challenge campaign, which concluded in December 2011 and raised $6.23 billion.

O’Neill said many of Yale’s peer schools completed their most recent fundraising campaigns later than Yale did, adding that these schools are still seeing the results of those campaigns unfold as donations from earlier pledges trickle in.

But Roger Noll, an economics professor at Stanford who studies alumni fundraising, said Stanford’s fundraising success primarily stems from its proximity to Silicon Valley.

“The best thing Yale could do is move out here,” he said.

Noll said Stanford’s best fundraising years often coincide with booms in the information technology industry because many of the founders and employees of firms based in Silicon Valley are Stanford graduates.

While the national economy remains sluggish, many technology companies are currently enjoying a bubble with valuations often reaching hundreds of billions of dollars, he said, adding that this enables Stanford’s alumni to be more generous with their donations.

Noll said that when Wall Street was doing well in the 80s and 90s, schools such as Yale were pulling ahead of Stanford in terms of fundraising, primarily because more Yale graduates tend to go into finance or consulting. Because of these cyclical fluctuations in the economy, Noll said no one at Stanford expects the university to fundraise at its current level indefinitely.

“It’s nice to say we’re so brilliant but in reality we got lucky with this windfall,” he said.

O’Neill said Stanford has also effectively leveraged its position near Silicon Valley to raise funds from people who did not attend the university. Noll said many Silicon Valley employees will often make the 10 minute walk to Stanford to visit faculty or attend lectures, adding this level of intimacy and engagement engenders giving from people who otherwise would not have a connection to Stanford.

Despite an overall increase in giving to universities, national participation rates among alumni have decreased, said Richard Hesel, a principal at Art and Science Group LLC, a firm that advises colleges and nonprofits. According to Hesel, this indicates a growing division of wealth in America.

“It used to be 20 percent of givers accounted for 80 percent of dollars raised,” he said. “Now it may be that 10 percent of givers account for 90 percent of dollars raised. The rich and powerful support institutions that represent the rich and powerful.”

According to the CAE report, the average university in America had an alumni giving rate of about 8.7 percent in fiscal 2013, a dip from the 9.2 percent figure recorded the prior year. But although participation rates may be lower across the nation, Yale’s alumni giving rates have consistently remained above 30 percent, said Mark Dollhopf ’77, executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni.

Robert K. Hopkins III SOM ’86, vice-chair of the Yale Alumni Fund Executive Committee, said the high percentage of graduates who donate to Yale is a testament to how much students cherish their time at Yale. Alumni would not give to a school unless they enjoyed their experience, he said. Dollhopf added that he and many other graduates donate their time and resources to Yale to show gratitude for how the University has changed their lives.

“Although alumni giving is a small slice of the pie, it’s a catalyst for further dynamism,” said Andrew Wallach ’80, another board member of the Yale Alumni Fund. “If you look at the universities in Europe, they tend to have less resources than their American counterparts because of a relative inability to institutionalize alumni giving.”

Though donations only represent a small percentage of operating revenue, Benjamin said even universities with multi-billion dollar endowments rely on alumni donations.

While universities seek to improve their teaching and research, the costs associated with higher education are continually rising, he said.

“The presidents, if you call them, they would say they desperately need this money just to stay in the game,” Benjamin said. “Research is extremely expensive.

According to the Yale Alumni Fund’s website, $20 million in alumni gifts is approximately equivalent to the one-year return of an additional $380 million in Yale’s endowment funds.

Both Hopkins and Wallach said the University values alumni gifts because they can cover any gaps in funding or advance specific projects that restricted endowment funds cannot.

Gifts to U.S. colleges and universities totaled $33.8 billion in fiscal 2013, a 9 percent increase from fiscal 2012.

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