Thinking About the Long Term

Thinking About the Long Term

September 22nd, 2009

by Ted Grossnickle

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an article that updated readers on the billion dollar campaigns at 32 American universities. During the most recent month for which they had data available, these schools raised $268.4 million in gifts and pledges. Over the past twelve months, the schools reported gifting of $6.3 billion.

Of the 32 campaigns, 24 have goals in excess of $1billion; there are 10 of these with goals in excess of $3 billion.

These are the largest higher educational campaigns – but represent just 32 schools. America has something like 1.9 million non-profits – including churches.

All of this is underway during this very challenging economic time. To be sure, higher education has a longer and more deeply rooted tradition of campaigns and donor understanding than most other categories of non-profits. But this is still a remarkable set of statistics which reflects some important things to remember about gifting in America.

Even while we hear about declines in gifting and in our practice at JGA, we must somehow take notice of the sheer size and scope of philanthropy. What happens every year in this country in terms of campaigns, gifting by donors and sheer aspiration on the part of colleges and universities is massively different from 2-3 decades ago. The scope of private philanthropy is so much larger than during the 1970s and 1980s. A decline of a few percentage points now means something very different from what it used to mean.

In one sense, the amount not being given right now is larger than what has been seen in other campaigns. And in another sense, the amount still being given is vastly more than ever before.

Here at JGA, the clients we serve are collectively seeking to raise in excess of $1 billion.

All of this makes me believe that what we are currently experiencing is but a “bump” in a decades-long history of growth in what Americans think they can accomplish. This is not to suggest that we will return to what was before this economic crisis; I don’t think we will. But it does suggest to me that there is an deeply embedded and continuing desire in our society to accomplish great things which will motivate those who give and those who seek to raise money.

It’s good to remember this as we think about the future.

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