Gifts to Major Colleges Decline

Donations to American colleges and universities fell nearly 12 percent during the fiscal year ending last June, the steepest decline in fundraising since the mid-1970s and a direct result of the recent recession, according to a report released by the Council for Aid to Education yesterday.

Charitable giving to Harvard beat the national average, declining eight percent for a total of $602 million in donations.

Harvard had the second highest amount of donations of any college or university, following Stanford University’s total of $640 million.

Stanford and Harvard far outpaced the competition, with Cornell trailing in third place with $447 million.

The 20 universities with the largest donations ended the fiscal year with an average 11.8 percent decline in funds raised, barely beating the national average decline of 11.9 percent.

Liberal arts colleges were particularly hard hit by the decrease in charitable giving, seeing an 18.3 percent decline in gifts.

More recent University fundraising numbers than those in the report are not available, according to Ed Sevilla, executive director of strategic communications for the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development.

Tamara E. Rogers ’74, the University’s chief fundraiser, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Martin Shell, vice president for university development at Stanford, told BusinessWeek yesterday that Stanford’s high level of donations was the result of strong relationships between the university and its alumni community.

But Ann M. Kaplan, the director of the survey, told The Crimson yesterday that although outreach by development offices is crucial for long term success, it is less integral in determining donation levels in the short term.

Charitable giving tends to correlate with the stock market and broader economic performance, Kaplan said. She said that this year’s decline in giving is not surprising given the past year’s economic performance.

The magnitude of the recent recession has raised fears among some economists that Americans might significantly alter their spending patterns, shifting away from the high levels of consumption that have characterized recent years of economic growth.

But John J. Havens, a professor at Boston College and an expert in philanthropy, said that such a potential shift is unlikely to affect gifts to universities in the long term.

“I don’t see this as a definite permanent or structural shift—most people that we deal with are still committed to their philanthropy,” Havens said.

“If there’s a major redistribution of wealth we could see a structural change, but I don’t see that as a major issue,” he said.

—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at egroll@fas.harvard.edu.

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