'Angel Donors' Quietly Buoying US Colleges

Sharon Rieger's picture

When Dr. Henry Lee joined the University of New Haven in 1975, its forensics program consisted of a filing cabinet containing one dusty polygraph machine, random fingerprinting supplies and a plaster mold kit for footprints that couldn't be used because there was no budget to replace it.

Today, forensics is the university's largest program and a new $11.5 million institute bears the internationally-renowned scientist's name -- over Lee's vehement protests, though, and only because UNH's president convinced him it would help the school attract top students and faculty.

While he's best known for forensics work on high-profile cases such as the O.J. Simpson and Jon Benet Ramsey investigations, there's another Henry Lee behind the scenes: an "angel donor," one of countless low-key, often anonymous benefactors nationwide whose gifts or influence have helped launch or save their favored colleges' most critical programs.

As the economy has made fundraising more challenging in recent years, some universities are being buoyed by longtime angel donors whose quiet philanthropy is plugging budget holes. Their gifts occasionally come so anonymously that the schools do not even know their benefactors' identities right away.

Read more