School leadership, rankings affect gifts of $1 million or more, study by Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates finds
The length of a university president’s time in office, national college rankings and the board’s leadership in giving are among the factors that help colleges and universities attract more and larger million-dollar-plus gifts, a new study finds.
Million-Dollar-Ready: Assessing the Institutional Factors that Lead to Major Gifts, was conducted by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Johnson Grossnickle and Associates. It examines the characteristics of higher education institutions that consistently attract publicly reported gifts of $1 million or more.
The study drew on a unique data set to pull together multiple data points from education data sources about the 1,449 higher education institutions that received publicly announced million-dollar-plus gifts between 2000 and 2012 that were reported on the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Million Dollar List. These institutions received more than 10,500 such gifts worth a combined total of more than $90 billion during that period. The report also incorporates insights from in-depth interviews with donors and staff at case study institutions with a successful track record of securing million-dollar gifts, shedding light on both a major donor’s path to giving a gift at this level and the institution’s view of the process of attracting such a gift.
A major challenge for colleges and universities uncovered by the study is that less than one in three degree-granting institutions in the U.S. received a publicly-announced gift of that size during the period examined, and far fewer received multiple million-dollar gifts. However, the school’s research indicates that higher education institutions receive more publicly announced million-dollar-plus gifts than other types of nonprofits.
Million-Dollar-Ready examines million-dollar-level giving from a different perspective than much of the previous research on the topic.
“Many studies look at the characteristics of major gift donors and their motivations for giving; we wanted to flip that on its head and assess what institutional factors are associated with receiving gifts of $1 million or more,” said Angela White, Senior Consultant and CEO of Johnson Grossnickle and Associates. “There’s no magic formula for receiving large gifts, other than listening to and building positive relationships with donors over time. But this report reveals major themes that can help colleges and universities assess their own million-dollar readiness and what they can do to improve their ability to attract large, transformational donations.”
The study’s key findings (all other things being equal) include:
Success starts at the top.
- Colleges and universities with long-term, established presidents who articulate clear, compelling missions for the institution are more likely to attract big gifts. Having a president in office since before 2000 is associated with receiving about 18 percent more million-dollar gifts over the study period.
- Higher average giving by trustees and board members is linked to an increase in the number of million-dollar gifts received, not only from board members but also from other donors inspired by their commitment to give.
Rankings and age matter.
- A national ranking on a “best colleges” list in 2000 was associated with a 61 percent increase in the number of million-dollar gifts received and a 156 percent increase in the total value of those gifts between 2000 and 2012.
- Institutions founded prior to 1900 tend to receive a higher number and greater total value of million-dollar donations compared with those founded since then.
- The more the alumni give on average, the more likely the school is to attract donations of $1 million or more.
Doctoral degree-granting or research universities, along with liberal arts institutions, tend to receive both more million-dollar gifts and higher total values of such gifts.
Institutions whose endowments have a higher value receive more million-dollar gifts, and the total value of those gifts is larger.
“Some factors that contribute to a favorable climate for million-dollar-plus gifts are measurable, while others are not easily quantifiable,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., director of research for the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Colleges and universities that successfully combine these factors as shown in this study to provide transformational vision, demonstrate solid leadership and inspire donors’ confidence are more likely to attract transformative million-dollar gifts.
About Johnson Grossnickle and Associates
Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates (JGA) has been providing authentic, strategic philanthropic consulting services to non-profit clients since 1994. JGA’s team of senior consultants offers client-focused, highly customized philanthropic consulting services to private colleges, independent schools, and large cultural and community organizations. JGA specializes in capital campaign counsel, feasibility studies, philanthropic assessments, and development audits.
About Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is dedicated to improving philanthropy to improve the world by training and empowering students and professionals to be innovators and leaders who create positive and lasting change. The school offers a comprehensive approach to philanthropy through its academic, research and international programs and through The Fund Raising School, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.