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Pomp, Circumstance, and Educational Philanthropy


It's that time of year. The strains of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 in D Major echo across the nation as high school seniors, college upperclassmen, and their families gather for graduation ceremonies. In the lower grades, preschoolers are becoming kindergarteners, fifth and sixth graders are "graduating" into middle school, and middle schoolers are looking forward to high school.

The State of Educational Philanthropy

Educational institutions and programs have received monumental contributions recently. In March 2000, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $350 million to improve public schools throughout the country. The following month, cable magnate H.F. Lenfest and his wife, Marguerite, announced that they were giving $35 million to the Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. In May, Thomas Patrick Seay, president of the Seayco Group of Bentonville, Arkansas, established a $4 million charitable remainder trust to benefit the University of Arkansas.

Despite these newsworthy donations, evidence about the state of educational philanthropy is mixed. According to the December 16, 1999,Chronicle of Philanthropy, a study by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) found that fewer donors contributed to private schools and institutions of higher education in 1997 and 1998.

Independent Sector reached similar conclusions about giving in 1998: "The percentage of household contributions to education fell by half since 1993, from almost 12% to 6%. ... Education organizations received 6.4% of total household contributions in 1998, a decrease of just under 3% from its 1995 level."

A donor study conducted for Craver, Mathews, Smith & Company found that only 6 percent of the 708 participants gave to educational institutions. In comparison, 35 percent contributed to churches or synagogues, 25 percent to charities, and 20 percent to nonprofit public interest groups.

On the other hand, the Independent Sector survey also found that the average household contribution to education increased 20 percent between 1995 and 1998. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported in December 1999 that educational organizations received the bulk of corporate donations between 1986 and 1997.

The Council for Aid to Education found that in 1998, gifts to colleges and universities reached approximately $18.4 billion, "the largest total ever and a 15 percent increase over the 1997 level of $16 billion." A National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) analysis of large charitable gifts made between 1996 and 1999 revealed that about 65 percent of these donations went to educational charities.

Other reports are even more encouraging. U.S. News and World Report noted in February 2000 that "Dot-com fortunes, Wall Street bonuses, and large inheritances have left many recent college graduates flush with cash and stocks, and they're giving back to dear old alma mater in quantities never seen before."

Such generosity is not confined to Generation X. An Internal Revenue Service analysis of federal estate tax returns for 1995 found that more than half of the decedents left bequests to organizations in the educational, medical, and scientific category. The average age for male decedents in the study was 75.3 years; the average age for female decedents was 80.9 years.

The American Association of Fundraising Counsel estimates that giving to education increased about 10.8 percent in 1998 and 8.5 percent in 1999, and the Foundation Center found that "science, religion, and education experienced [the] fasted growth in Southeastern grant dollars between 1992 and 1997." Another Foundation Center study notes, "Support for education grew 24.4 percent to $2.4 billion in 1998, exceeding the 22.2 percent increase reported for the overall sample. As a result, education accounted for 24.4 percent of grant dollars in the latest year, up slightly from 23.9 percent in 1997."

Preparing Americans for a New Economy

One thing that is clear is that people can support education in a number of ways. A search of the GuideStar database using the key wordeducation reveals that the term applies to more than 57,800 nonprofit organizations.

Changes in the U.S. economy are causing many leaders and nonprofits to focus on postsecondary and adult education. In November 1999, the 21st Century Skills Leadership Group, a body established by Vice President Al Gore to assess workforce learning practices and suggest ways for the country to meet future needs, informed Gore that "this exciting new time demands new skills and knowledge, but many Americans are not fully able to participate in our new economy." The group identified access to postsecondary education as one requirement for achieving this goal.

In 1997, the Commission on National Investment in Higher Education, a group created by the Council for Aid to Education, went even further in its assessment. It reported, "As service-related jobs have come to dominate the workplace, the college degree—or at least some form of postsecondary education and training—has replaced the high school diploma as the entry card into rewarding employment."

The commission speculated that higher education would be unavailable to many if current trends continue: "At a time when the level of education needed for productive employment is increasing, the opportunity to go to college will be denied to millions of Americans unless sweeping changes are made to control costs, halt sharp increases in tuition, and increase other sources of revenue." (Italics in the original text.)

Fortunately, the nation's most affluent philanthropists are making substantial contributions to postsecondary education. According to the NCCS, 92 percent of large charitable gifts made in 1999 went to colleges and universities. These institutions also received "a large majority of donations" during the three previous years.

You do not need to be a millionaire to support higher education. Nearly 8,900 organizations in the GuideStar database have the word scholarship in their name, and many other charities—from the Community Players of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to the Amateur Athletic Union in Austin, Texas—offer scholarships to students attending colleges, universities, and technical or professional schools.

Other Areas of Educational Philanthropy

Nonprofit organizations support education in many other ways. Some provide clothing to school-age children or help adults learn to read. Others teach individuals with special needs. Still others focus on helping children stay in school or reach out to at-risk preschoolers. Ethnic organizations share their heritage with schoolchildren. Other groups provide programs to supplement public school curricula.

As the Digest of Education Statistics for 1999 notes, "From the large number of participants, the number of years that people spend in school, and the large sums expended by educational institutions, it is evident that the American people have a high regard for education." They also have abundant opportunities to be educational philanthropists.

Sources Cited

  • American Association of Fundraising Counsel. "Total Giving Increased 10.7% in 1998 Announces  GIVING USA 1999: Key Donor and Recipient Groups See 20%+ Increases in Giving." Press Release, May 25, 1999.
  • "Total Giving Reaches $190.16 Billion as Charitable Contributions Increase $15.80 Billion in 1999: Second Largest Increase of the Decade." Press Release, May 24, 2000.
  • American Council on Education. "Lifelong Learning Opportunities Key Element of Report to Gore on 21st Century Workforce Training." Press Release, November 4, 1999.
  • Blum, Debra E. "Share of Company Profits Given to Charity Drops from 2.4% to 1.1% in 11 Years."  Chronicle of Philanthropy,December 16, 1999.
  • Commission on National Investment in Higher Education. Breaking the Social Contract: The Fiscal Crisis in Higher Education.1997.
  • Council for Aid to Education. "Private Contributions to Higher Education Soar to Record-Breaking Levels in 1998." Press Release, May 28, 1999.
  • Foundation Center. "All Fields Benefit from Dramatic Rise in Giving by Top-Ranked U.S. Foundations." Press release, January 2000.
  • Foundation Center. "Highlights of the Foundation Center's 1999 Study, Southeastern Foundations II: A Profile of the Region's Grantmaking Community." 1999.
  • Hanchette, C. Quinn. "More Money Raised from Fewer Donors, Educational Survey Reports."  Chronicle of Philanthropy,December 16, 1999.
  • "Household Contributions by Type of Charity." Giving and Volunteering in the United States: Findings from a National Survey.Independent Sector, 1999.
  • Introduction to Digest of Education Statistics, 1999. National Center for Education Statistics, 2000.
  • Johnson, Barry W., and Jacob M. Mikow. "Federal Estate Tax Returns, 1995-1997." Statistics of Income Bulletin, summer 1999, pp. 71, 118.
  • Marcus, David L. "Generation X Turns Out to Be Generous: Under-40 Alumni Shape Up to Be Major Donors." U.S. News and World Report, February 21, 2000.
  • Marshall, Amanda, comp. "Large Education Gifts and Grants: A Sampling." Chronicle of Philanthropy, May 4, 2000.
  • Sommerfeld, Meg. "What Did the Money Buy? Critics Question the Effectiveness of Annenberg Grants for Education." Chronicle of Philanthropy, May 4, 2000.
  • "Toward 2000 and Beyond: Charitable and Social Change Giving in the New Millennium." A Craver, Mathews, Smith & Company Donor Study conduced by Peter D. Hart Research Associates. 1999.
  • "Where the Large Charitable Gifts Go: Giving Patterns from 1996 to 1999." National Center for Charitable Statistics, spring 2000.


suzanne-coffman-150x150.jpgThe preceding post is by Suzanne E. Coffman, with research assistance from Laura Wilson.