Matt Kupec: The Power of Philanthropy in Higher Education

Philanthropic giving in America in 2018 set an all-time record with nearly $428 billion generously donated. Of that amount, $58 million was given to education. In this post, we look a the reasons why philanthropy in higher education is so important.

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by Matt Kupec

September 28, 2019

Philanthropy plays a critical role in our society.  In 2018, Americans gave $427.71 to charities, a record level.  Of the total amount, $58.72 million went to support education.  In higher education these dollars help colleges and universities recruit and retain students and faculty, improve and build facilities, strengthen academic programs and support cutting edge research.

At a luncheon with Southern Illinois University alumni earlier this week, I had the chance to make the following points to the Saluki alumni pitch about the important role philanthropy plays for the University:

  • Philanthropy Provides the “margin of excellence.”  Universities generate revenue from a variety of sources.  These include state appropriations (for public universities), tuition, research (for research institutions), philanthropic support and auxiliary revenue.  In many instances, dollars raised from philanthropy will be mingled together with other revenue sources to start a new program or build a new facility.  Philanthropy provides “the margin of excellence,” that is the money from private gifts gives organization the funds needed to complete a project, an initiative or a fund.  Without philanthropy, that project would not have been able to be completed.  As state budgets get tighter, private giving is playing an even more important role in allowing Universities to meet the challenges that await them.
  • Philanthropy Sends a powerful message.  At Universities, the allegiance of alumni to support their alma mater is often a key criteria used corporations and foundations will ask when making a decision about supporting the institution.  If alumni will give back financially to their institution than they must think their experience at the University was a worthwhile and important experience.  Even the U.S. News and World Report allocates 5% of a University’s overall ranking for a category known “alumni support,” the percentage of alumni that support their university., when calculating all the factors in their rankings formula.
  • Philanthropy Connects you to the University.  At the lunch I mentioned earlier, SIU alumni discussed a number of ways alumni can help their alma mater – attend events, serve as a mentor for undergraduates, provides internships and externships, help undergraduate admissions with recruiting, help new graduates with their job search.  Making a financial philanthropic gift to your alma mater is another way to connect you to your university.
  • Philanthropy is A great way to help your University.  Even if you are so busy with work, your family and other community engagements and one doesn’t have much time to get with their alma mater, the alumnus can make a philanthropic gift which serves as a great connector.  It also provides the alumnus a way to make an impact at their alma mater.
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