In an unprecedented move, the Yale Office of Development ceased to release University-wide donation statistics to members of the University Cabinet — a key advisory body for University President Peter Salovey — at the conclusion of the second quarter of this fiscal year.
The official gift statistics have not been released, but in response to the lack of transparency surrounding second quarter results, two individuals with knowledge of fundraising statistics added up gifts and pledges received by each budgetary unit of the University. They said that from October to December 2018, Yale raised around $183 million — a number both considered “concerning” given the fact that this quarter is usually the most successful time of year for Yale. When asked about the specific statistic, Salovey said this figure may not have factored in unrestricted gifts that were not assigned to a particular unit, but he declined to provide the total gifts and new pledges made in the past quarter.
Still, in an interview with the News, Salovey said low donation numbers are not the reason why the Office of Development has elected not to share the statistics with members of the Cabinet — a body containing school deans, vice presidents, University Provost Ben Polak and Salovey. Most universities only release annual gift statistics and “statistics over short time periods are not very informative,” Salovey said. He added that he wanted members of the cabinet to “avoid short-term bias” because it does not lead to the “most rational strategic thinking.”
“In the past we have shared our fundraising numbers with members of our fundraising team and with Yale leadership electronically for their work purposes,” Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill, who is also a member of the University Cabinet, said in a statement to the News. “While we have shared these quarterly numbers internally, we have only published externally once per year after the fiscal year-end close after June 30. We have now stopped the internal distribution as a result of seeing our internal charts displayed in the Yale Daily News.”
In July, Yale entered the silent phase of the upcoming capital campaign, the University’s next major fundraising push. According to O’Neill, Yale administrators have, since then, been building relationships with potential major donors and raising a “nucleus fund” — which traditionally accounts for about 40 percent of the multibillion overall fundraising goal. The campaign’s public launch will likely occur in 2021, O’Neill said.
The University tracks the amount of donations in two different metrics: in terms of gifts and new pledges as well as in a separate measurement, cash receipts. While gifts and pledges only track donations solicited during the quarter, cash receipts also include donation commitments made by donors before July but received in the quarter. In an email to the News last week, O’Neill declined to share numbers for boice President for Development Joan O’Neillth cash receipts as well as gifts and new pledges but said last December was the “strongest year-end in recent years in terms of overall commitments.” O’Neill added that there was a more than 10 percent increase in the number of transactions made through the new online donations portal. The Office of Development is “delighted that our donors are responding favorably to this improved tool,” O’Neill said.
But when asked Thursday about the low donation statistics from the last quarter, O’Neill emphasized that giving fluctuates throughout the year. Large gifts have a disproportionate impact on the gift totals, which can result in significant swings from quarter to quarter depending on when these large gifts are finalized, O’Neill explained. She added that she is “confident that we will end the year with very strong results,” considering her office’s year-to-date progress and gifts under discussion. Given the confidential nature of conversations with donors, Cabinet members may not be privy to the full range of gifts under discussion, O’Neill said.
“The report I see tells me about gift discussions underway … and about when we anticipate various gifts closing,” Salovey said in an interview with the News. “It has much more data that allows you to project into the future in a rational way. … We are very much on track. We are working on any number of important and generous gifts. … I’m looking forward to very good fundraising in the next couple years ahead.”
In December, the News reported that the University received a smaller total of gifts and new pledges in the first quarter of this fiscal year, despite efforts to ramp up donations during the silent phase. According to documents obtained by the News, Yale raised a total of $49.6 million in gifts and new pledges in the first quarter of the silent phase from July 1 to Sept. 30, marking the lowest figure for the first quarter in recent years. The University received $54.8 million in gifts and new pledges during the same months last year and $59.2 million in 2016. In 2015, Yale raised $71.9 million from July to September.
The News interviewed seven members of the Cabinet, two of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly about confidential matters. In a statement to the News, School of Management Dean Edward Snyder said he asked O’Neill about the change in practice when Cabinet members did not receive the University’s gift total for the second quarter.
“Given the lack of information, I directed my team to see if they could provide me with information about second quarter results,” Snyder said.
When asked about the change in procedure and the lack of transparency, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun said he “value[s] opportunities to thank our alumni, parents and friends of the university.” Both Snyder and Chun declined to comment further for the story.
Another member of the Cabinet — who spoke to the News under the condition of anonymity — said Yale should release the quarterly donation statistics to Cabinet members and explain the insignificance of short-term results, instead of concealing the numbers.
“I don’t think you can measure the success of development quarter by quarter,” Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling said. “I don’t get upset if we have a bad quarter, but I do worry when we have a bad year. … I worry about how things will look in another six years.”
In the last capital campaign — which closed in 2011 under former University President Richard Levin — Yale raised a total of $3.88 billion.
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org