Despite a 26 percent decline in donations to the University last fiscal year, Yale is running ahead of schedule to fulfill its $3.5 billion capital fundraising goal by June 2011.

Nearly four years into its current capital campaign, the University has raised about $2.76 billion and has less than $800 million left, Vice President for Development Inge Reichenbach said. Giving has also decreased at peer institutions, though not enough to keep most from meeting their fundraising goals. But Yale is one of the few to shift its development priorities in response to the drop-off, scaling back its efforts to raise funds for construction projects in favor of soliciting donations for endowed professorships and student financial aid.

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Yale has consistently stayed ahead of schedule throughout the capital campaign, known as “Yale Tomorrow,” Reichenbach said. By October 2008, Yale had raised nearly $2.4 billion. The Development Office has relied primarily on alumni, whose gifts have made up between 70 and 75 percent of the funds raised so far — despite the effects of the economic recession, which has made donors wary of opening their checkbooks, she said. (Other donors include parents, corporations and foundations.)

“It’s a real testament to people’s connection to Yale,” Reichenbach said.

Several of the University’s peer schools have also managed to weather the recession because alumni donations have remained strong, allowing them to stay on target for their development campaigns.

The number of alumni who gave to Brown University is down somewhat from last year, Brown Vice President for Development Kristin Davitt said, but the amount of money raised in the 2009 fiscal year is almost the same as in 2008. Brown has not adjusted its fundraising priorities, instead continuing with a capital campaign set to run through December 2010, whose original goal of $1.4 billion was met 19 months ahead of schedule in May 2009, Davitt said.

Dartmouth College raised $38.1 million in fiscal year 2009 — down from $42.2 million in 2008 — but alumni participation fell only one percentage point, from 47 to 46 percent, spokesman Roland Adams said. Dartmouth set a goal in 2004 of raising $1.3 billion by the end of this year.

Annual giving at Princeton had its third-best year ever in fiscal year 2009, spokeswoman Emily Aronson said.

Harvard currently has no capital campaign. Though its fundraising in fiscal year 2009 declined 8 percent from the year before, it is still the third-highest fundraising total in Harvard’s history.

Meanwhile, Stanford University surpassed its goal of raising $4.3 billion by 2011 two years early, reaching that marker this fall, Stanford spokeswoman Rebecca Smith Vogel said. But to do that, Stanford, like Yale, has had to shift its focus to soliciting support for student scholarships, fellowships and professorships, putting fundraising for capital projects on hold, she added.

“There’s still quite a bit of fundraising going on, but we have definitely shifted the focus to the people,” Smith Vogel said.

Yale, too, began emphasizing fundraising for the general operating budget over securing gifts for the University’s construction and renovation projects to ensure that faculty development does not suffer, Reichenbach said. The operating budget funds the salaries of faculty and staff, student financial aid and other daily expenses.

Gifts to endow faculty chairs and fund need-based scholarships for students are among the most popular types of donations to Yale, Reichenbach said, adding that “a number” of proposals to endow certain chairs are under consideration at the moment.

“I have not seen people stop giving to that area,” she said. “We have made certain narrowings of focus, and we are looking primarily for gifts that will provide relief for the general purpose budget.”

When soliciting gifts to the operating budget, Yale asks donors for specific amounts of money to fund scholarships and endowed professorships. The cost to name an existing tenured professorship at Yale is $3 million, while the price tag of creating a new endowed professorship is $5 million. To establish a named scholarship, a donor must give a minimum of $100,000. (For many students on financial aid, a portion of their gift is provided by a specific donor.)

Donors have the option of endowing chairs and scholarships in their own name or in honor of another person. Such a gift is invested and held by the University, paying out regular sums on a yearly basis; endowed gifts at Yale pay out returns at an average rate of 5 percent per year, University President Richard Levin said.

Levin said these figures do not represent the total cost of hiring a professor or putting a student through Yale. Between salary, fringe benefits, staff support and research equipment, a tenured professor will, over the course of his or her career, cost the school more than $5 million, he said.

“These gift opportunities are more or less determined by market forces — what other schools are offering and what people are willing to give,” Levin said.

Levin said the numbers are also partly strategic. Although it would take a gift of over half a million dollars to endow in perpetuity a typical Yale scholarship of $30,000 per year, donors are allowed to set up named scholarships for endowed gifts of $100,000, which provide only a few thousand dollars a year to a student’s tuition, because the University wants to encourage donors to give to financial aid despite the recession. Similarly, keeping the cost of endowed professorships below the total price tag of supporting a Yale professor makes it more likely that donors will donate to name chairs.