A fundraising campaign, drawing the support of alumni and a host of other philanthropists, more than doubled the charitable contributions George Washington University received last year. Giving at the tony private school in Washington, D.C., soared to $248 million in the 12 months ending June, up from $98.5 million a year earlier.
And new data shows it’s not the only area school benefiting from the largess of donors, who were buoyed by a strong economy. An annual survey from the Council for Aid to Education found that 20 colleges and universities in Maryland, Virginia and the District scored a 20 percent or higher bump in charitable contributions in the 2015 fiscal year. Some of the largest gains occurred at GW, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, University of Maryland College Park, Virginia Wesleyan College and the University of Mary Washington.
Private elite schools Stanford ($1.6 billion) and Harvard ($1.05 billion) topped the national list, well ahead of the rest of the nation’s schools.
Not every college and university in the region participated in the study, but nearly 1,000 institutions across the country responded to the survey, which captures cash and other assets in hand, not pledges that schools often include in their fundraising stats. Of the 63 area schools to participate, half reported an increase in gifts.
For GW, the outpouring of support signals that the school is well on its way to meeting its goal of raising $1 billion by June of 2018. The university launched its largest fundraising campaign, dubbed “Making History: The Campaign for GW,” in the summer of 2014. Proceeds are earmarked for increased financial aid, research projects, and the expansion of the school’s science and technology offerings, among other things.
“We are starting to see some significant momentum building for the campaign,” said GW spokeswoman Candace Smith. “We have seen an increase in annual giving and major gifts, which are apparent in the fundraising totals.”
The university received 200 gifts totaling $202.6 million in 2015, with 23 of those contributions at $1 million or more.
Million-dollar donations also played a major role in growing contributions at the University of Maryland’s flagship campus, which recorded a 50 percent increase — to $122 million — in charitable gifts, according to the survey.
School officials say the university received 28 gifts of more than $1 million from donors, including the largest gift in the university’s history from alumnus Brendan Iribe. The chief executive of virtual reality outfit Oculus gave the school $31 million to fund a new computer science building and scholarships. Another famous Terp, Under Armour chief Kevin Plank, ponied up $25 million for the renovation of the Cole Field House sports complex.
Peter Weiler, vice president of university relations at College Park, said the involvement of university president Wallace Loh in the fundraising effort gave the development office the support to make an aggressive push for contributions.
“The president invested in the fundraising enterprise beginning in 2014,” Weiler said. “As a result, we were able to be in contact with many more friends and alumni, and have increased dramatically our outreach and communications efforts.”
Nationwide, charitable contributions to colleges and universities rose 7.6 percent to $40.3 billion in fiscal 2015, driven by individual donations rather than corporate or foundation gifts.
Twenty schools accounted for more than 25 percent — or $11.5 billion — of the donations. Stanford University, which pulled in $1.6 billion, raised the most money, followed by Harvard University with $1 billion. Those elite institutions dwarfed the third school on the list, the University of Southern California, which raised $653 million.
“Philanthropy is a part of the economy. When the economy expands, philanthropy will also expand,” said Ann E. Kaplan, who directs the survey at the Council. “Most major gifts are made in the form of stock or securities, so if the market is fairing well … it bodes well for these schools.”
She noted that more than 90 percent of the contributions universities and colleges receive are restricted, meaning the donors have included stipulations for how the money must be used. Nearly two thirds of the gifts schools received last year were earmarked for operations, while much of the remainder was set aside for endowments, equipment, property or loan funds. The largest portion of gifts to endowments, or 39 percent, goes to scholarships and grants, Kaplan said.
Just one school in the region cracked the top 20 list: Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, with $582.6 million in charitable donations. But the well-heeled research university actually reported a 5 percent dip in contributions during the prior fiscal year. Several area schools, including Bowie State University and Washington and Lee University, witnessed giving slip at least 10 percent in the 12 months ending June 2015.
Top institutions for charitable contributions in fiscal year 2015:
1. Stanford University ($1.63 billion)
2. Harvard University ($1.05 billion)
3. University of Southern California ($653 million)
4. University of California-San Francisco ($609 million)
5. Cornell University ($591 million)
6. Johns Hopkins University ($583 million)
7. Columbia University ($553 million)
8. Princeton University ($550 million)
9. Northwestern University ($537 million)
10. University of Pennsylvania ($517 million)
11. University of California-Los Angeles ($473 million)
12. Duke University ($472 million)
13. University of Washington ($447 million)
14. University of Chicago ($444 million)
15. Yale University ($441 million)
16. New York University ($440 million)
17. Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($439 million)
18. University of Michigan ($394 million)
19. University of Notre Dame ($380 million)
20. University of California-Berkeley ($366 million)
Top 10 institutions in the Washington region for charitable contributions:
1. Johns Hopkins ($583 million)
2. George Washington University ($248 million)
3. University of Virginia ($233 million)
4. Georgetown University ($172 million)
5. University of Maryland-College Park ($123 million)
6. Virginia Tech ($86 million)
7. University of Maryland-Baltimore ($69 million)
8. Virginia Commonwealth University ($67 million)
9. College of William and Mary ($56 million)
10. George Mason University ($53 million)