U.S. Universities Raised a Record $40.3 Billion Last Year

Updated on
  • U.S. colleges raised a record $40.3 billion in fiscal 2015
  • Eight gifts of $100 million or more went to four universities

Stanford University beat Harvard University once again in annual donations as U.S. universities raised a record $40.3 billion, bolstered by at least eight gifts of $100 million or more including art and rare books.

In the year through June 30, Stanford led with $1.63 billion, a record for an individual school, according to a survey released Wednesday by the New York-based Council for Aid to Education, which tracks university giving. Harvard ranked second with $1.1 billion. About 1,000 schools responded to the survey, and the group used data to estimate a total for institutions that didn’t respond.

The gifts show that the nation’s wealthiest colleges continue to attract a disproportionate share of higher education philanthropy. The top 20 fundraising schools accounted for 28.7 percent of the total donations. The eight gifts of $100 million or more were received by just four schools, with four going to Stanford and two to Northwestern University. Total charitable contributions rose 7.6 percent while the Standard & Poor’s 500-Stock Index gained 4.6 percent.

Fundraising at Stanford and Harvard
Fundraising at Stanford and Harvard

“Donors want to be confident that the institution to which they transfer such assets can steward them effectively,” Ann Kaplan, the survey’s director, said in an e-mail. “That means an institution that receives gifts to the endowment must have a track record of good returns on endowment assets.”

Two branches of a family from the Bay Area donated an art collection to Stanford, valued at more than $600 million. The 121 artworks include paintings by Frank Stella, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, and are displayed at a gallery on the Stanford campus that opened in 2014.

The survey said Stanford also received two donations in the fiscal year of $100 million and $106 million, which support activities in the medical center, including two hospitals and its school of medicine, according to the school.

“Increasingly people are looking to the research university in this country to help resolve some of the intractable problems that are facing human kind,” Martin Shell, who oversees Stanford’s fundraising, said in a phone interview. “Universities are seen as positive agents of change and people want to be part of that.”

The school, with an endowment of $22.2 billion as of August 2015, has topped the list for the past decade, with the exception of the year ended June 2014, according to the survey. That’s when Harvard led with $1.16 billion, setting a record at the time for the most raised in a single year.

Books, Manuscripts

Northwestern’s gifts for fiscal 2015 included $100 million from Roberta Buffett Elliott, sister of Warren Buffett, for an institute of global studies, and $100 million from a couple for an institute of biotechnology in medicine. The Evanston, Illinois-based school, which ranked ninth on the survey, raised $537 million. The Pritzker family pledged $100 million for the law school in October, some of which will be captured in the next survey.

Donors see the impact these gifts can make, “not just on the institution, but on the world,” Morton Schapiro, Northwestern’s president, said in a phone interview. “They are excited about what you could do with their money: bold, new strategic plans that can really transform not only the university, but allow us to do a much better job in our public missions.”

The other $100 million and more gifts went to the University of California-San Francisco, which ranked fourth with $608.6 million, and Princeton University, according to the survey. Princeton raised the eighth-largest amount, $549.8 million, which included its largest gift ever -- 2,500 rare books and manuscripts valued at $300 million.

In the year ended June 2014, schools received five gifts of $100 million or larger, a total of almost $700 million, according to the survey.

Top 5 schools in fundraising in fiscal 2015
Top 5 schools in fundraising in fiscal 2015

The survey asks schools for the top three donors in four categories -- by a living individual, a bequest, companies and foundations.

Schools in the top 10 also included the University of Southern California with $653 million; Cornell University, $590.6 million; Johns Hopkins University, $582.7 million; Columbia University, $552.7 million; and the University of Pennsylvania, $517.2 million, according to the survey.

Gifts from alumni increased 10.2 percent to $10.9 billion, and non-alumni donations rose 23.1 percent to $8 billion, according to the survey. Charitable support from foundations including family foundations increased 3.6 percent while corporate giving was flat.

Contributions to schools’ operations increased 13 percent, according to the survey. Gifts for capital purposes, such as endowments, property or buildings, were flat.

Politicians in Washington are once again taking a close look at endowment spending and their tax exempt status. One draft proposal would require donors to designate at least 25 percent to financial aid if they want a tax deduction.

(Corrects number of survey respondents in second paragraph in story published Jan. 27.)
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