Colleges’ characteristics linked to big gifts

Leaders’ tenure, board giving, and national ranking are associated with the number and value of million-dollar gifts to colleges and universities, a new study says.

Other key factors include a school’s age, its investment in employees, endowment size, enrollment, alumni giving, and the type and location of the institution, says the study the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University and Johnson Grossnickle and Associates, a consulting firm to nonprofits.

Long-term presidents

Having a president in office since before 2000 was associated with receiving roughly 18 percent more million-dollar gifts for the years 2000 to 2012, says the study, which looked at education data for 1,449 schools that received publicly announced gifts of $1 million or more for the the period.

The study included in-depth interviews with donors and staff at three schools that had been effective at securing million-dollar gifts, including Arizona State University, DePauw University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

While previous research on million-dollar giving has focused on donors, the study says, it looked at characteristics of schools that consistently attract gifts of $1 million or more.

$90 billion in 12 years

Those schools received more than 10,500 gifts of that size during the period that were worth a combined total of over $90 billion, says the study, Million Dollar Ready: Assessing the Institutional Factors that Lead to Major Gifts.

Boards, rankings

An increase in average board giving also was associated with an increase in the number of million-dollar gifts received during the period.

And a national ranking in 2000, such as the “Best Colleges” report from U.S. News & World Report, was associated with a 61 percent increase in the number of million-dollar gifts a school received, and a 156 percent increase in the value of those gifts.

A big challenge

A major challenge for colleges and universities, the study says, is that fewer than one in three degree-granting institutions in the U.S. received a publicly announced gift of $1 million or more during the period studied, and far fewer received multiple million-dollar gifts.

Still, the study says, higher-education institutions receive more publicly announced gifts of $1 million or more than other types of nonprofits.

Age of institutions

Institutions founded before 1900 received more million-dollar gifts, and more total dollars from gifts that size, compared with institutions founded since 1900.

Institutions founded from 1900 to 1950 received about  13 percent fewer million-dollar gifts, and institutions founded since 1950 received 12 percent fewer, compared to the oldest schools.

Enrollment, alumni giving

The study says an increase of 1,000 enrolled students is associated with a 1 percent increase in the number of million-dollar gifts, and with a 2 percent increase in the total value of those gifts.

And a 10 percent increase in average alumni giving is associated with an increase of 0.7 percent in the number of million-dollar gifts

Yet small schools do attract big gifts, and alumni are not the sole source of big gifts, the study says.

DePauw, with only 2,300 students, received seven publicly announced gifts of $1 million or more more from 2000 to 2012, while Arizona State, with roughly 300,000 alumni, received 53 gifts at that level from people who did not attend the school, the study says.

Endowments, investment in people

The value of a school’s endowment corresponds to both the number of million-dollar gifts the school receives and the total value of those gifts, the study says.

And schools that invest in more tenured faculty and spend more on employee expenses are more likely to attract million-dollar gifts.

Type of institution and location

Liberal arts schools and doctoral or research institutions received more million-dollar gifts from 2000 to 2012, and higher total values of those gifts, than other schools, while historically black colleges and universities received fewer million-dollar gifts than other institutions.

Rural schools received 11 percent fewer gifts than non-rural schools, and schools in the South and West received more than those in the Northeast.

Todd Cohen

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