The Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey findings released in February by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) show voluntary support of U.S. higher education institutions totaled $49.50 billion in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020.
The VSE survey has been collecting data on giving to colleges and universities since 1957. This year’s survey includes responses from 873 institutions.
While support edged slightly down from $49.60 billion in 2019, nearly half — 48.6%—of responding institutions reported that giving increased.
In addition, in 2019, Michael Bloomberg’s charities and foundation gave $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University. If that contribution were not included in 2019 results, giving in 2020 would have increased 3.6%.
Two of the most important periods of fundraising activity — the end of the calendar year and the end of the fiscal year—fell in significantly different economic and social climates. In February 2020, the National Bureau of Economic Research declared the nation was in a recession. In contrast, 2019 was part of the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.
“In a year marked by uncertainty due to COVID-19 combined with a renewed passion for the power of community as seen in social justice movements across the globe, it is gratifying to see that giving to colleges and universities continues to play an integral role in transforming lives and society,” CASE president and CEO Sue Cunningham said. “Advancement professionals, working with institution leaders and colleagues, have demonstrated an impressive response to unprecedented circumstances realizing philanthropic support for their institutions and for advancing education at a time when it was most needed.”
While the VSE survey does not ask about specific drivers of contributions, anecdotal evidence suggests that socially motivated philanthropy played a pivotal role in giving to U.S. colleges and universities. For example, Netflix C.E.O. Reed Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, gave $120 million to two historically black colleges and the United Negro College Fund at the end of the 2020 fiscal year. MacKenzie Scott’s gifts, currently totaling $800 million, to mostly historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) will be reported on the 2021 survey.
“As with any data, it is important to look beneath the surface to the details. Raw data from the survey, available on CASE’s Data Miner platform, enable institutions to compare their data with those from comparable organizations,” CASE senior director of the VSE Ann E. Kaplan said. “In addition, the findings are the result of many factors, including the work of advancement professionals as well as the economic and policy environments. Those who care about educational fundraising should pay attention to the tax climate and how advancement is staffed.”
CASE continues to advocate for a universal charitable deduction to encourage broad and inclusive philanthropic engagement at every level.
Other key findings from the 2020 survey data include:
• The largest percentage increase in giving—7%—came from “other organizations.” This category of donors, while smaller than others, has grown the most in the past decade—53.2%—since 2011. Donor-advised funds (DAFs) represented 73.9% of the funds contributed from “other organizations” in a sample of a subset of 400 institutions. In 2020, “other organization” giving surpassed corporate support for the first time. Giving from non-alumni individuals rose 4% in 2020. All other sources reduced giving in the aggregate.
• Foundations and alumni together supplied 55.5% of total support. A subset of 564 institutions provided data on types of foundations. They reported that 43.3% of foundation support was from family foundations, which are often conduits of personal intentions to contribute.
In March, CASE published the first edition of the CASE Global Reporting Standards (previously CASE Reporting and Management Guidelines). The VSE survey will adopt the Global Reporting Standards for the 2022 VSE survey collection.
For more information about CASE, please visit case.org.
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