By all accounts, September was not a good month for the American economy.
Stock prices plummeted, and 159,000 jobs were lost, the worst such decline in five years. But at Yale, it was a record month for fundraising. Figures obtained by the News show that the University raked in over $28.25 million in donations last month, more than double the $14 million raised in September last year.
“We are still doing amazingly well,” Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach said in an interview. “We think there will ultimately be an impact, but so far, so good.”
In some ways, the results are not surprising. Most of Yale’s most generous donors are not facing unemployment or foreclosure; some are so wealthy that even the most dramatic downturn has a negligible effect on their ability to give.
Yale’s success this fiscal year, which began on July 1, has not been limited to September. Although the summer is usually a slow time for donations, nearly $84 million was raised in July, August and September combined. This tops the roughly $48 million raised in the same period last year, but, Reichenbach said, gifts pledged in the summer are the result of discussions dating back months and even years.
There is a lag, then, between when economic downturns hit the country and when they hit universities. Yale and other schools have done well so far this year, but donations under consideration now may be delayed or cut back.
Brian McDonald, vice president for development at Princeton University, noted in a telephone interview that while donations to Princeton have been strong so far this fiscal year, they could soon taper off.
“The number of conversations we’re having with donors has not decreased,” said McDonald, who added that the first quarter of the fiscal year was one of Princeton’s best ever. “But the likelihood of the conversations resulting in gifts in the near-term has fallen off a bit.”
Princeton, like Yale, has an active capital campaign, and McDonald said the four years it has left to meet its goal of $1.75 billion eases the “sense of urgency” some schools are feeling.
Universities, after all, have become accustomed to rapid rates of giving growth. Over the last 20 years, according to data from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, giving to educational institutions has increased by an average of seven percent annually. This fiscal year, the Council’s Fundraising Index predicts that growth will drop to just over five percent.
Thankfully for the University, fundraising in the last decade has been so strong that Yale should weather the storm unscathed.
Yale Tomorrow, the University’s ongoing capital campaign that was officially launched in 2006, has raised nearly $2.4 billion since the start of its silent phase in 2004. While the Yale Corporation increased its goal by $500 million to $3.5 billion this June — in order to support Yale College’s expansion to fourteen residential colleges — the campaign is already 68 percent of the way to this new goal.
If giving continues at the campaign’s average rate, Yale will reach its target six months ahead of the scheduled completion in June 2011. In part, this fast pace is a reflection of how much giving to Yale has increased because of the campaign.
In the seven fiscal years leading up to Yale Tomorrow — including the uptick in donations for Yale’s tercentennial celebration in 2001 — the University raised an average of $285.2 million each year. In the four completed fiscal years of the campaign, that number has more than doubled to an annual average of $574.8 million.
The momentum from the campaign is helpful for the University as it faces a difficult economy, Reichenbach said, but this is a challenging time for other schools considering launching their own campaigns.
Harvard Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development Tamara Rogers declined to comment for this article. But she told The Harvard Crimson last month that Harvard might delay the start of its capital campaign because of economic uncertainty.
Still, Yale officials have found that new initiatives help motivate donors. The extra $500 million that the University hopes to raise will all be devoted to projects associated with the two new colleges; $250 million will go directly to the construction of the colleges, while the remaining funds will go to the expansion of related facilities and programs.
One “very large gift” has helped Reichenbach raise $140 million for the new colleges in under six months, and there are still many giving opportunities left.
Donors who give $150,000 can have a student suite in one of the new colleges named after them; an exercise room costs $1 million; and a dining hall is listed at $5 million. A new undergraduate theater and a fitness center are also available for naming, though the required donation levels are not disclosed for these big-ticket items.
At all giving levels, Reichenbach said, one noticeable impact of the economic slowdown may be a delay in pledge payments. Donors typically have five years to fulfill their pledges, but Yale Tomorrow has seen an usually high number of donors choosing to make their payments early.
“A lot of people have been paying in as little as two years,” Reichenbach said. “Maybe now they’ll take six years.”
No matter how fast they expect to receive donors’ money, schools like Yale and Princeton are not relenting in their requests for donations. For the past few months, Yale has been offering donors tours around the new West Campus and pitching opportunities for the new residential colleges at every chance.
Indeed, McDonald said, there may be a silver lining to the economic troubles.
“One of the interesting side effects,” he said, “is that donors seem to actually have more time to talk than ever.”