Donations to colleges stayed flat at $50B in fiscal 2020

by Jeremy

Dive Brief:

  • According to an annual report tracking higher ed giving from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, colleges received $49.5 billion in donations during the 2020 fiscal year, an amount essentially flat with the prior year.
  • Alumni and foundations accounted for 55% of donations, though giving from non-alumni individuals and “other” organizations rose 4% and 7%, respectively. Donor-advised funds comprise three-quarters of contributions from the latter group.
  • The pandemic broke out during the second half of the fiscal year, changing how advancement officials approached donors and potentially leading benefactors to shift their priorities.

Dive Insight:

As the pandemic erupted, some institutions reached out to donors without asking for contributions, while others solicited support for their institutions’ human services, the report notes. Many community colleges, for instance, found success raising money for emergency student aid.

Giving to current operations rose to 7% in fiscal 2020, while gifts for capital purposes — including those to the endowment and for property and equipment — declined 10%. However, restrictions on donations didn’t change much; donors continued to earmark much of their giving for research and student financial aid.


The report notes that the national protests last summer over systemic racism and police brutality also likely buoyed giving to colleges.  Last year, Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, donated $40 million each to Spelman and Morehouse colleges, two historically Black institutions in Atlanta, and UNCF, which provides scholarships to HBCU students. Hastings told The New York Times that the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, and the social outcry that followed spurred the donation’s size.

It’s unclear how the pandemic will impact giving to colleges in fiscal 2021. The CASE report also doesn’t include gifts from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who donated more than $800 million to colleges and universities late last year.

But in a recent survey, EAB found that fundraising revenue during the first half of fiscal 2021 fell by more than 30% year over year at a quarter of the 104 schools it polled. Higher ed giving tends to rise and fall with the stock market, and several indexes appear headed toward record highs ahead of prospects for more stimulus funding. “If you’ve been a good steward of your endowment and your donors, donors want to help colleges,” said Ann Kaplan, senior director of the survey. “There’s a relationship there that doesn’t go away because the economy is in bad shape.”

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