For the first time since 2005, Yale did not rank in the top 10 for annual fundraising among colleges and universities nationwide.
Total cash donations to Yale in the 2014 fiscal year dropped to $430.31 million from $444.2 million in 2013 — causing Yale to slip from ninth to 15th nationally — according to the annual survey released Wednesday by the Council for Aid to Education. Although overall contributions were at their highest in history at a national level, Yale’s fundraising revenue continued a downward trend following its high-water mark in 2011, when it raised $580 million.
Still, administrators and experts cautioned against drawing conclusions from the annual data, arguing that Yale continues to be highly successful in its fundraising efforts. The CAE calculates only the cash receipts received by the University and not the commitments or pledges for future donations, meaning that Yale’s performance in the rankings is only a partial picture of all fundraising success.
“I do not think the slight dip in cash receipts in the last year is a significant trend for the future,” Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill wrote in an email. “It is important to note that we had an excellent year last year in terms of new commitments — raising $502 million against our goal of $400 million.”
O’Neill said many of the schools ahead of Yale in the survey — including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Cornell, Duke, USC and Northwestern — are in the midst of capital campaigns or have just finished them, so their higher fundraising revenue reflects the payments on significant campaign gifts. She added that many of the pledges made in Yale’s most recent capital campaign, Yale Tomorrow, have already been paid since the campaign ended in 2011.
Although fiscal 2014’s total did not include Charles Johnson’s ’54 $250 million donation, the largest gift in Yale history, the University’s cash donations still dropped by roughly 3 percent compared to the previous year.
“One of the challenges when [a school] receives a large gift is that the typical donor may say something like, ‘they have gotten that big gift and don’t need our small donation anymore,’” said Timothy Winkler, CEO and founding partner of the Winkler Group, a fundraising consulting firm. “Those larger gifts for that reasoning can be a blessing and a challenge. […] They put an extra imperative on Yale’s development office to continue articulating its message about why it is still worthy for support.”
Harvard, with a fundraising total of $1.16 billion, took in the highest total donations in the history of higher education, breaking Stanford’s previous record of $1.03 billion, set in 2012. Stanford had ranked number one in fundraising for the past nine years.
In contrast with Yale’s calculation, Harvard’s fundraising record does not include the $350 million donation it received in September 2014, the largest in the university’s history.
Experts interviewed also estimated different reasons for Yale’s drop in donations, and the stark difference in performance from Harvard and Stanford.
Assistant Director of the Yale Alumni Fund Susan Frankenbach said since Harvard has a larger graduate population than Yale, there is a smaller pool of alumni for Yale to solicit donations from.
Director of Cornell’s Higher Education Research Institute Ronald Ehrenberg echoed this statement, noting that Harvard and Stanford both have “massive” business schools in comparison to Yale’s relatively small School of Management, and business school graduates are among the most generous and common donors. He added that Harvard’s law school is also larger than Yale’s, creating another donation disparity between the two schools.
“If I was the Yale Administration, I would not be concerned,” Ehrenberg said. “$400 million is extraordinary.”
Despite the drop in donations to Yale, charitable contributions to institutions around the country collectively were at a historic high this year, growing by 10.8 percent to $37.45 billion in 2014.
Experts interviewed attributed this rise in nationwide philanthropy in higher education to a variety of causes, ranging from the strong stock market performance to successful fundraising techniques used by development offices.
Ann Kaplan, who directed the CAE survey, said a large percentage of this year’s national increase in giving is likely due to a rise in personal and institutional wealth, which is often reflected in the strength of the stock market and index funds performance. During the 2014 fiscal year, the New York Stock Exchange increased 19.8 percent and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index increased 21.4 percent.
O’Neill agreed, adding that people are also increasingly interested in the future of academic institutions.
“The rise in charitable donations to colleges in general can be attributed to many factors including greater optimism in the economy and an increase in personal wealth for some donors, as well as a commitment to the importance of education,” O’Neill said. “At Yale we have seen particular and significant interest by our donors in supporting financial aid and outstanding teaching.”
Winkler said another factor contributing to the rise in giving may be due to the strategies employed by colleges and universities to recruit charitable gifts.
“Historically, higher ed has recruited and retained the best fundraising professionals. […] They also seem to be on the leading edge of whatever are the most effective tactics in the profession,” he said. “We are starting to see that spike in giving right now.”
The CAE survey also noted that the top 20 fundraising institutions in the country — representing less than 1 percent of the 3,000 colleges surveyed — received nearly 30 percent of all gifts to higher education. Kaplan said this skew may reflect that larger institutions can recruit gifts from a wider base of donors beyond its alumni base.
“One reason is that [the top 20 schools] are a lot more than teaching institutes: they have art museums, hospitals that do medical research, they spend more money,” she said. “They can make the case for support that goes beyond their teaching mission, so people that may not have gone to the school or are not interested in educational philanthropy can still make a gift.”
Roger Noll, an economics professor at Stanford who studies alumni fundraising, told the News last February that Stanford oftentimes receives donations from individuals who did not graduate from the university. Stanford’s close proximity to Silicon Valley has been one of the primary causes of Stanford’s fundraising success, Noll said, and the university’s top fundraising years typically coincide with booms in the information technology industry.
Noll added that while many Stanford graduates do become employees and founders of Silicon Valley firms and give back to the university, many Silicon Valley workers who did not graduate from the school choose to donate as well, because they connect with the university by attending open lectures and forming friendships with faculty members.
In addition, Stanford just concluded its Stanford Challenge campaign in December 2011 — a five-year fundraising initiative that raised $6.23 billion for the university.
Still, Hesel said this data reflected the growing divide between wealthy institutions and schools in greater need. Although charitable giving to higher education is at an all-time high, Hesel said most schools across the country are not seeing the type of donations being received at the top.
Correction: Jan. 29
A previous version of the article stated fiscal 2014’s total included Charles Johnson’s ’54 $250 million donation. In fact, though his commitment occurred in the 2014 fiscal year, it was not counted in the 2014 CAE figures.