Buoyed by rising alumni support as Yale enters a $1 billion capital campaign, the University brought in $290 million in total cash gifts in the last year. Officials said they expect fund-raising totals to reach more than $350 million this year, surpassing record levels from the last capital campaign five years ago.

Yale fund raisers have also secured at least $400 million so far in the “activity total,” which includes both outright gifts and pledged donations that have not yet made their way to Yale’s coffers. Right now, development officials said Yale only has its hands on about a third of the new activity spurred by the capital campaign’s “quiet phase.”

“The fact is that we had lots of people making big pledges, and just a fraction of it got paid last year,” Yale President Richard Levin said.

While Yale’s cash total for the fiscal year ending June 30 bested its $265 million for the 2004-05 fiscal year, it lags behind the University’s record of $358 million set in 2000. Gifts have been rising steadily over the past three years after dropping precipitously in 2002 in the wake of a nationwide recession.

Some other institutions that have already released fund-raising totals from last year have again topped Yale in overall cash totals. Harvard University raised $590 million during the last fiscal year and Columbia University raked in $348 million. Donations at Harvard have increased despite Harvard President Lawrence Summer’s controversial remarks in the winter on women’s aptitude in science and engineering.

While Yale official said they expect fund-raising totals to rise in the coming years, they expressed doubt that the University would eclipse totals at institutions such as Harvard, where the bases of alumni donors are considerably larger. For example, Harvard has about 82,000 living alumni compared to Yale’s 50,000.

“Harvard has traditionally been number one or number two in the country for many, many years,” Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach said. “Since Harvard is also gearing up for a campaign, I don’t anticipate that they will give up the top slot in the near future.”

Both Columbia and Harvard, like Yale, are in the quiet phases of capital campaigns. But University officials said they expect to break Yale’s cash records this year as it cashes in its chips on donations for new science buildings, art and international programs — which Levin has said are among the largest gifts in the University’s history.

“Our cash numbers won’t start rising until this year because of the nature of the campaign, but over the next two or three years we’ll be looking much stronger and competitive,” Levin said.

Of last year’s $290 million, $110 million was earmarked for the endowment, $26 million for building renovations, $92 million for gifts specified by the donor, and $32 million for unrestricted funds — which go directly into Yale’s operating budget and can be used at the University’s discretion. The remaining funds went to “other” funds not fitting in these categories.

In the past few years, Yale has hovered around 10th place in an annual survey of cash donations to higher education institutions conducted by the Council for Aid to Education. Yale’s fund-raising totals will probably rise more dramatically than they did this past year once the University opens its campaign to the public, said Ann Kaplan, the council’s director.

“The number one reason that people make a gift, is that they’re asked for it,” Kaplan said.