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Articles: Endowments

College graduates are used to hearing from their alma maters with requests about donations and to cheer on the school athletic teams. But lately, alumni from a growing number of institutions are hearing the sounds of alumni offices retooling themselves to offer an unprecedented array of services and programs.

The economic crisis has dominated the headlines since September 2008 and taken its toll on individuals and institutions alike. Few have been immune to the effects of a volatile stock market, low interest rates, rising unemployment, tight credit markets, and plunging real estate values.

WHEN IT BECOMES HARDER TO raise funds and the notion of success is coming up with just 90 percent of last year's revenues, fundraisers must get smarter--by better understanding their donors and the different tools and approaches to connecting with them. Colleges and universities of all sizes now have the opportunity to influence and motivate a new generation of donors and get them in the "habit of giving," but it's an uphill climb. The competition for every second of attention and each dollar is frenetic.

Over the last two years, tax-exempt colleges and universities have become targets of increased scrutiny by the Secretary of Education, the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") and the Senate Finance Committee. With the looming budget crisis and an ever-increasing deficit, regulators are taking a hard look at whether these institutions are providing the public benefits commensurate with the tax breaks they receive as a result of their tax-exempt status.

As colleges and universities face the sobering realities of the economic crisis, one has to wonder: Is higher education approaching the perfect storm?

For many universities, funding allocations are at maximum levels, while some legislatures are already instituting significant budget cuts. Endowment levels for public and private institutions are questionable as economic woes curtail benefactors’ ability to give. And costs on everything from fuel to health insurance continue to increase with no end in sight.

A leading environmentalist who happens to be our former vice president, Al Gore, said, "Holding a 'feel-good' investment may appeal to the heart, but it's of no real use if it doesn't produce a healthy financial return." The investment behavior of university and college endowments appears to confirm Gore's comments. Over the past five years, market-rate, mission-based investments made by all nonprofit organizations, including educational institutions' endowments, trusts and foundations, have grown three times faster than the below-market segment.