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Number of Donors and Amounts Donated to Colleges and Universities Down Sharply in 2009

June 24, 2010

The 2009 Index of Higher Education Fundraising Performance, which is based on fundraising activities at 61 public and private nonprofit colleges and universities, reports that both the number of donors and the median amount received from each donor declined sharply, particularly at public colleges and universities. From 2007 to 2009, the percentage of alumni of public colleges and universities who sent donations to their alma maters fell from about roughly 12 percent to just 9 percent; at private nonprofit institutions, the alumni participation rate declined from 23 percent to 19 percent. Declines appear to have accelerated from 2008 to 2009. Over the past year, the total number of new donors (alumni and all others) to public institutions fell 13.2 percent, compared with a 6.6 percent drop at independent colleges and universities. The median amount received from all contributors to public universities decreased 9.2 percent, versus 5.5 percent at private nonprofit institutions. Overall, the median gift amount received by all colleges and universities fell from $500 in 2008 to $477 in 2009. In contrast, the median gift actually grew about 6 percent from 2007 to 2008.

While the number of new donors fell, the number of multi-year contributors-those that are the most loyal to their institutions-appears to have remained stable. Both public and private colleges and universities reported declines of just one percentage point in the retention rates for long-term donors. However, the overall number of donors (new donors plus continuing long-term donors) fell nearly 5 percent in 2009, which came on top of an almost 3 percent decrease in 2008.

The report cites a number of factors that contributed to the decline in financial gifts to colleges and universities, including: rising unemployment; declines in the stock market and other financial losses; and low consumer confidence. The report recommends that institutions examine their current gift strategies and determine how best to position their tactics when the economy begins to improve. The 2009 Index of Higher Education Fundraising Performance is available online.


Ken Redd
Director, Research and Policy Analysis