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Survey: Higher Education Giving Returning To Pre-Recession Levels

By The NonProfit Times - January 28, 2013

Fundraisers at higher education institutions are optimistic that giving is returning to pre-recession levels, according to the results of a survey by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

After reaching a record $31.6 billion during the 2007-08 academic year, giving to colleges and universities hit a steep decline caused in part by the Great Recession. Giving declined to $27.85 billion in 2009, a drop of 11.9 percent from the previous year. Donations started to recover in 2010-11, reaching $30.3 billion according to the Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) report issued by the Council for Aid to Education.

The just-released results of the CASE Fundraising Index (CFI) show increased optimism that growth will continue. Fundraisers for colleges and universities estimated that their institutions grew 5.5 percent in 2012 and predict a further increase of 5.8 percent in 2013. The survey is conducted twice a year and asks participants to estimate the level of giving for the 12-month period that just ended, and to predict the level of giving for the 12 months to come.

“If the initial estimate for 2012 holds true, giving to higher education will have exceeded the high watermark set just prior to the recession,” said CASE President John Lippincott.

The new CFI also includes estimates for pre-collegiate independent schools, and those numbers again boded well for giving. Respondents estimated a 5.7 percent increase in 2012, and predicted an increase of 4.4 percent in 2013. In total, all institutions participating in the survey estimated a 5.6 percent increase at the close of 2012, 1 percent higher than what was reported during the year’s beginning.

Lippincott speculated the disparity might have come from what fundraisers are hearing directly from donors about their “growing confidence in the economy.” He also said that the debate over the “fiscal cliff”, which included proposals to reduce or even eliminate the charitable deduction, might have played a role, as donors who made major gifts hoped to reap the full tax benefits of their philanthropy before any changes could be made. Itemized deductions were reduced by a fixed percentage as part of the overall deal, but changes to the charitable deduction feared by the nonprofit sector were not implemented.

“The charitable tax deduction remains linked to the donor’s marginal tax rate, which has been critically important to our strong tradition of philanthropic support of education in the United States,” Lippincott said.

While the overall response from fundraisers was optimistic, some felt more hopeful than others. Those professionals at community colleges were among the most optimistic, estimating a 7 percent increase and a 6.8 percent increase in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Lippincott said this was because of a recent development in that area of higher education.

“Many community colleges began investing in their fundraising programs only recently, and they are now beginning to see strong returns on those investments,” he said.

The results from the CFI are encouraging for higher education fundraisers, but Lippincott warned that the percentages are averages and that performances at individual institutions vary based on a number of factors, such as the maturity of fundraising program.

CFI, which was first introduced in 2008, is conducted entirely online and reaches fundraising professionals at more than 2,100 CASE-member institutions in the U.S. during the first weeks of January. The January 2013 CFI had a response rate of 11.7 percent. The second part of the survey will be conducted in the first weeks of July.

You can find the full results at


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