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by Matt Kupec

November 21, 2018

Fundraising at colleges and universities has become a very important source of revenue.   As University leaders face increased pressure on enrollments, new program initiatives, escalating personnel and program costs, and infrastructure needs for building renovations and upgrades, philanthropic support is taking on added responsibility for helping these organizations meet their ambitious agendas..

Colleges are making more investments in their fundraising operations as they look to dramatically increase their level of private giving support.  As such, we are seeing unprecedented growth in fundraising

Every year, the Council for Aid to Education releases the fundraising numbers for all institutions of higher learning.  For 2017, 3,700 institutions responded to the study.  Here we take a look at some of the results of the study:

  • Overall Trends in Higher Education Fundraising. Here are some of the trends of higher education fundraising:
    • Giving to America’s colleges rose 6 percent in 2017, lifted by a surge in giving by alumni.
    • Higher education as a sector raised $43.6 billion, the largest amount ever counted by the CAE survey since it began in 1957.
    • Colleges’ fundraising performed better than that for all nonprofits over all. The most recent “Giving USA,” which covered 2016, saw only a 1.4 percent increase in private support.
    • In 2016, giving by alumni was down by nearly 9 percent and by 6 percent among other individuals.
    • The Top 20 Universities in fundraising raised nearly $12.2 billion, or 28%, of the $43.6 billion total (see more below).
  • Top 20 Colleges in Giving. Listed below are the top 20 universities in terms of the overall dollars raised.  There are no surprises here as these colleges consistently rank as the top funding institutions on an annual basis.  The Ivy League placed six schools in the top ten.  The University of Washington at #12 is the highest fundraising public university.
Rank Institution $ Raised
1 Harvard $1.28 billion
2 Stanford $1.13 billion
3 Cornell $743.50 million
4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology $672.94 million
5 University of Southern California $668.33 million
6 Johns Hopkins University $636.91 million
7 University of Pennsylvania $626.49 million
8 Columbia University $603.08 million
9 Yale University $595.89 million
10 Duke University $581.05 million
11 New York University $567.12 million
12 University of Washington $553.89 million
13 University of California-Los Angeles $550.93 million
14 University of Chicago $483.47 million
15 University of Michigan $456.13 million
16 University of Notre Dame $451.43 million
17 University of California-San Francisco $422.17 million
18 University of California-Berkeley $404.59 million
19 Ohio State University $401.85 million
20 Indiana University $398.26 million
  • Other Facts About the Top 20 Universities Giving.
    • The top 20 colleges accounted for over 28% of the total raised by the more than 3,700 institutions surveyed. The share of the total has stayed approximately the same for several years.
    • The list of top-20 colleges had only one change – Northwestern dropped from the list and was replaced by University of California at Berkeley.
    • These top fundraising development offices have the highest expenditures and have the most diverse programming. Some included medical schools and hospitals.
  • Sources of Giving. This chart looks at the sources of giving to higher education.  Individuals account for 54.7% of the giving while organizations (corporations and foundations) account for 45.3% of all giving.
Source Total % of Total
Alumni $11.37 billion 26.1%
Non-alumni individuals $7.86 billion 18.0%
Corporations $6.60 billion 15.1%
Foundations $13.13 billion 30.1%
Other $4.64 billion 10.6%
   Totals $43.6 billion  

  • Top 20 Colleges by Alumni Participation in Giving, 2017
    . Another way that schools evaluate their fundraising performance is to look at the overall alumni giving percentage.  It is generally felt that the higher the loyalty of the alumni to the school, the greater the likelihood that those alumni will make a gift back to their alma mater.  It is interesting to note that only one school – Notre Dame – is in the top #20 for both overall giving and alumni participation.  ND ranks #19th in alumni participation and #16th in the overall giving category:
Rank Institution Alumni % Giving
1 Wellesley College 49.0%
2 Williams College 46.2%
3 Amherst College 45.6%
4 College of the Holy Cross 44.1%
5 Princeton University 43.7%
6 Bowdoin College 42.4%
7 Davidson College 42.3%
8 Carleton College 42.1%
9 Colby College 41.9%
10 Hamilton College 40.9%
11 Dartmouth College 39.8%
12 Augustana College 39.8%
13 Bates College 39.8%
14 Colgate University 39.3%
15 Randolph-Macon College 37.5%
16 Centre College 37.4%
17 Haverford College 35.7%
18 Swarthmore College 35.5%
19 University of Notre Dame 35.3%
20 Washington and Lee University 34.5%
  • About the Author

 Matt Kupec is a fundraising professional with 32 years of significant higher education development experience. He has directed three major university fundraising campaigns and nearly $5 billion has been raised under his leadership. He has led the fundraising programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hofstra University, Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and HelpMeSee, a New York City based non-profit.