Trends, Partnerships and Predictions
for a Bright Future


Recently I spoke to a convention of public university chief executives. I focused my remarks on trends in philanthropy because I believe “charitable collaboration” is the real headliner in public higher education. It deserves our focus more than ever, and I hope it will soon supersede the daily news of funding cuts and rising tuitions.

 I share below excerpts from my presentation as a reminder to embrace opportunities that come with change. And to remind us as well that the right partnerships can be powerful drivers of philanthropy – strengthening public universities to the benefit of the states, students and communities they serve.

My perspective is both regional and national. I’m also a hopeless discerner of current trends and what these might mean for the future. For instance, I’ve been predicting the extinction of paper for 20 years!

Remember that the good old days of heady public support will never come back. UVA and Michigan called this in 1990. Also remember that private support is not about keeping the lights on, but is an elevator of reputation and excellence.

I have seen public and private revenue streams decline, increase and converge. Private support does not replace public support per se, but in many places it is exceeding the past and present levels of public support annually.

Unrestricted support is rare. Large gifts are getting larger. The number of small gifts is declining. These trends are firmly established. Marts & Lundy’s annual publication, $10M+ Gifts to Education, reported that in 2016, the Higher Education sector realized an 11 percent increase over 2015 in mega gifts of $10M and above.

Cases for support have changed from what donors can do for institutions – “woe is me” – to what the institutions can do for students, the region and the world. Impact!

Large donors mostly give to stimulate change. Gifts to endowment have been in decline since the recession. Planned gifts via bequests have emerged as the best future endowment builder.

Support foundations are as varied as there are many. However, there is change in the air, likely because of the recognition of declining state support. Whether directly or indirectly, they are partnering with their respective advancement organizations, joining and investing in the fundraising operations. Separation is now rare.

There is an increase in the importance of advocacy by board members, and a general miniaturizing of fiduciary functions. This is taking place in accordance with the Association of Governing Boards and is spreading across the land.

As these partnerships broaden, win-wins take place, and the result is exponential growth in public university fundraising.