Philanthropy – Where Do Gifts Come From

Third in a series on philanthropy in higher education

In 2020, according to the Council for Advancement and Support of Higher Education, nearly $50 billion flowed into University coffers. Over half of all giving, 55.5%, came from foundations (43% were family foundations) and alumni combined. It would be incorrect to assume that individual, annual and alumni gifts are unimportant. Individual giving is the seed corn of all giving. Studies show corporate and foundation dollars follow resources from alumni. Dissatisfied alumni don’t give. If graduates do not give, why should others?

Alma mater means loving mother. Individual appreciation is often demonstrated through a checkbook. The relationship between hard work, commitment and what was paid/returned makes intuitive and economic sense. Alumni are a path for corporations and foundations to give. Private institutions have the highest percentage of alumni giving, led by Princeton with 55% of alumni giving. The average alumni giving rate across all institutions is 8%. Of all alumni donors, 95% participated in student activities while on campus. Likewise, 90% of donors expect the University to demonstrate “sound business and operational practices.”

According to Inside Higher Ed, in 2021, U.S. colleges increased giving by 7%, giving $52.9 billion. Alumni giving increased by almost 11%

All foundation giving was up. Alumni, friends and corporate giving did not grow simultaneously, following a decade-long trend. But, much of the foundation increase is due to the rapid growth of family foundations. Public and private universities, which clearly articulate their mission and vision to prospects, can anticipate increasing philanthropic support. In addition, smaller regional research universities must promulgate regional distinctiveness like West Texas A&M University is doing.

According to Giving USA data for 2020, Americans gave $471.44 billion to charitable causes, and individuals account for 69% of all giving. Foundations account for 19%, followed by bequests at 9% and corporations at 4%.

To ensure philanthropic growth, honesty and transparency about vision, mission and distinctiveness must be championed. An increase in contributions demonstrates faith in a University, according to Forbes.

Harvard Business Review reports the importance of local partnerships continues to increase; therefore, giving should increase. Local corporations “…rely on outsourcing and collaboration with local suppliers and institutions rather than on vertical integration; they work more closely with customers; and they draw more on local universities and research institutes to conduct research and development.” The strides in philanthropy for all universities will come from collaborative working relationships with individuals, government and non-government organizations.

Increasingly, public universities will rely on private giving. This is especially true for regional universities that seek to support students in their studies through scholarships and financial aid from private sources. It means private family foundations that value access and support for students with high needs, career readiness and wants employment for graduates will continue to have a significant impact.

Foundation and individual giving make up the most significant portion of higher education philanthropy, which is true at WT. We are experiencing increased philanthropic support because of our vision clarity, as expressed in the Generational Plan: WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World and the Strategic Plan: The Pioneering Spirit: Pursuit of WT 125. Additionally, the aspirations and insights expressed in our One West campaign. The campaign has one goal, to support people, including students and families.

Texas Panhandle people’s most profound and significant value is honesty and trustworthiness. Our goal at WT is to live and breathe, through thought and action, this simple, transcendent value.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at

Todd W. Rasberry, Ph.D. is Vice President for Philanthropy and External Relations, and Executive Director of the WTAMU Foundation.

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