Donor Demands Reshape College Giving

Donor Demands Reshape College Giving

Donors today increasingly are likely to contribute to specific projects rather than the operating funds that are the lifeblood of colleges and universities and are much more willing to stop giving if they don't like the way their money is being used, the Washington Post reports.

One case being watched closely by college administrators is playing out at Princeton University, where school officials are in court with the members of the Robertson family, heirs to the A&P supermarket fortune, over a fund that has grown from a $35 million gift of stock in 1961 to more than $840 million. Family members filed the suit against the university claiming that the funds were not being used as stipulated in the terms of the original gift — to prepare students for public service jobs in government. The university portrays the ongoing legal skirmish as being about academic freedom. Either way, the case "is being watched by institutions with grave concern," said Sheldon Steinbach, a lawyer specializing in higher education. "An adverse determination could lead to litigation by a variety of donors across the nation."

The case is also being watched by prospective donors. While gifts to colleges and universities have been doubling every decade, reaching historic highs — some $28 billion in 2006, according to the Council for Aid to Education — baby boomers increasingly want to make sure their donations aren't misused or taken for granted. Donating "has become a much more engaged process," said Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who just retired as president of George Washington University. "Increasingly, people have points of view. The put-the-money-on-the-stump-and-run benefactors of earlier days are diminishing."

Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity University in Washington, D.C., said people have a very intimate relationship with their charitable gifts, and schools can find it difficult to delicate balance honoring the gift and dealing with an onerous demand. "The new philanthropy is more like an investment than a gift," she said. "It's a business transaction in a way it wasn't even a few years ago."

Susan Kinzie. "Exacting Donors Reshape College Giving." Washington Post 09/04/2007.