Campus, News

BU sees large increase in donations, alumni participation

An annual survey released by the Council for Aid to Education suggests donations given to North American colleges in 2013 increased 9 percent from last year.  GRAPHIC BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
An annual survey released by the Council for Aid to Education suggests donations given to North American colleges in 2013 increased 9 percent from last year. GRAPHIC BY MAYA DEVEREAUX/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Boston University received more than $116.5 million in donations in the 2013 fiscal year, a record increase consistent with a similar upward trend nationwide.

The 35 percent surge in donations to Boston University from 2012 to 2013 surpassed the 9 percent overall rise in donations to colleges in the United States and Canada, a figure reported in the Council for Aid to Education’s annual Voluntary Support of Education survey released Wednesday.

“We are on track to produce another record year for 2014,” said BU Senior Vice President of Development & Alumni Relations Scott Nichols.

The $30.3 million increase in donations from 2012 to 2013 is a result of improved economic conditions and greater efforts by Boston University to reach out to donors, Nichols said.

On the national level, improved economic conditions likely caused increased donations in 2013, said director of the CAE’s survey Ann Kaplan.

“The stock market was performing very well during the academic fiscal year that we studied,” she said. “A lot of the giving this year was capital purpose giving, which is usually major gifts from wealthy individuals. Those individuals’ wealth is tied very closely to the stock market, and when it improves, that makes a difference.”

Nationally, there were slightly fewer alumni donors in 2013 than the year before, but they tended to give more on average, Kaplan said.

“The thing that is really astonishing is that the average gift was up so much of the alumni who gave,” she said.

Alumni donations have accounted for about 35 percent of total donations to BU in the past few years, Nichols said.

Revenue from corporations and foundations constitutes about 20 percent of donations, he said.

“Our alumni participation rate has increased nicely in the past three years and is on track to exceed the national average this year, at a time when alumni participation rates for most colleges and universities are declining,” he said.

Nichols attributed the rate of alumni donation to efforts by the Campaign for Boston University, launched in September 2012.

“The unprecedented levels of giving have been catalyzed by heightened alumni engagement, cultivation and stewardship through the Campaign,” he said.

The five-year public campaign, focused on increasing resources allocated to programs such as financial aid, research support and facilities, has raised more than $620 million in commitments, Nichols said.

“The progress under President Brown and our trustees has been nothing short of amazing, considering that this is the University’s first formal campaign in history,” Nichols said. “No university ever attempted its first campaign at the staggering number of $1 billion.”

Revenues for BU were the third-highest in Massachusetts, behind Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the sixth highest in New England and the 54th highest in the country, Nichols said.

Kaplan said that a study like the CAE’s survey serves several important functions.

“On the broad level where we do annual estimates, it creates a national statistic which people will refer back to when analyzing policy and studying other kinds of phenomena,” she said.

Many institutions that were part of the survey have access to the database, which they can consult to look at peers that are performing slightly better at fundraising, Kaplan said. These institutions use the data to make strategic investment decisions, she said.

Nichols said donations to BU stem from a variety of sources other than alumni.

“Numerous other organizations, societies, associations, parents and other friends of the university also contribute millions each year,” he said.

One Comment

  1. Any donor thinking about making a contribution to BU should consider what happened to Orin Smiley before making a Gift

    Orin Smiley’s (BU Class of ’56) dying wish was to leave his estate to the BU wrestling team – valued at $800,000. This was a team that Orin not only wrestled for as a student at BU, but went on to coach afterwards. Mr Smiley set up two bequests to fund two endowments designed to help fund future operating budgets and provide more scholarships to BU wrestlers. One of those bequests was named in honor of the Smiley’s deceased son, a Vietnam War veteran. With over 20 NCAA athletic programs at BU, once the Smiley bequests vested, BU wrestling would have been one of three sports at BU that would have had an endowment (actually wresting would have had 2 endowments, one named for Mr. Smiley and one of his deceased son). A couple of years after Orin Smiley passes away but before the bequests are funded, BU decides to sell naming rights of a soon to be constructed athletic facility to New Balance in exchange for a $3M donation. New Balance, a lacrosse equipment maker, in exchange gets the benefit of BU adding a mens’ lacrosse team and NB gets a lucrative equipment contract with the BU lacrosse team. To address the gender inequality issue that arises from BU’s adding a men’s lacrosse team, BU decides to drop wrestling. Following the announcement of that decision, Mike Lynch, BU’s Athletic Director, is asked about the Smiley bequests and future endowments. Mr. Lynch publicly states that BU would try to redirect the Smiley bequests from BU wrestling to other athletic programs. The Smiley family, and specifically Mrs. Smiley, an 84 year old widow is devastated that her dead husband Orin’s wishes are being cast aside by BU and that BU would try to redirect the Smiley bequests. Now, without the guidance of Orin Smiley, the Smiley family is forced to hire a lawyer, spend money on legal fees (and possibly incur tax liabilities) to undue the bequests so that they could not be redirected by BU and Mike Lynch.

    Why did this happen? Because BU decided that New Balance’s $3M was more important than the $800,000 bequests donated by a deceased alumnus who’s last wish was to ensure the stability and long-term survival of his old college wrestling team. This is such a poor display of ethics and horrible lack of leadership, that I cannot trust any of my future donations to a school that treats it alumni in this manner. I will continue to disseminate this story and to encourage all my fellow BU alumni to reconsider any future donations to the school. And if you do donate to BU, be careful. They’ll wine and dine you and thank you at the signing but then go out and sell your legacy to the next highest bidder. Be sure to appoint a trustee and be sure to leave some money behind for legal expenses that your estate will incur to fight BU when it seeks to change the term of your donation after your passing.