Fewer donors than the year before contributed less money to Iowa’s public universities in fiscal 2019, a year already beset by mounting changes across the higher education landscape, with depressed enrollment forecasts, atrophied state funding, campus cost cutbacks and quests for novel revenue sources.
Taken as a whole, giving to the three public universities fell off nearly 18 percent from fiscal 2018 to 2019, which ended June 30, to a total of $452.3 million.
But the story of each school is more complicated: Donation declines at Iowa State University far overshadowed gains at the state’s other public universities.
University of Iowa
For the budget year that ended in June, 63,839 donors gave $242 million to the UI. That compares with 65,862 donors who gave $232 million in fiscal 2018, reported the UI Center for Advancement, the institution’s independent fundraising arm.
While that means fewer donors gave the school $10 million more, the donor and dollar totals were down 19 percent and 15 percent, respectively, from the 78,852 donors who gave $286 million in fiscal 2016. That year was near the end of the university’s eight-year, $2 billion fundraising campaign.
“It is typical for fundraising to drop after a campaign,” said Center for Advancement spokeswoman Dana Larson.
That campaign, when completed in December 2016, became the largest in state history by blowing past its $1.7 billion goal.
Iowa State University
Still in the midst of its nine-year, $1.5 billion “Forever True, For Iowa State” comprehensive fundraising campaign, ISU generated $181.8 million from 31,824 donors in the 2019 budget year.
That marked the lowest donor total since at least 2015, according to the ISU Foundation.
Its dollar and donor totals both were down from fiscal 2018, when 33,957 donors gave $293.8 million — meaning fundraising fell 38 percent year over year.
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“While the totals typically may fluctuate some year to year, the fundraising numbers show that overall Iowa State’s alumni and friends are still very dedicated to advancing the university,” ISU Foundation spokeswoman Elaine Watkins-Miller said in an email.
University of Northern Iowa
A regional sister school under Iowa’s Board of Regents umbrella, UNI saw a slight dip in its donor tally, from 13,049 to 12,564, even as its fundraising total climbed from $22.9 million to $28.5 million.
Philanthropic revenue at UNI has been growing since its independent foundation in 2017 initiated the quiet phase of an upcoming comprehensive campaign, said Jim Jermier, who just started as UNI Foundation president and vice president for University Advancement on July 29.
“As we develop and finalize the runway for the university’s next comprehensive campaign, I would see those amounts seeing even more of a yield bump year over year,” Jermier said.
Aid, not alternative
Philanthropy remains a top priority for Iowa’s public universities, which have been scrambling for more stable revenue streams after lawmakers dealt two consecutive rounds of midyear de-appropriations — forcing program cuts, employee furloughs, scholarship cancellations, tuition increases, pay freezes and closed programs.
“Philanthropy plays an important role in Iowa State’s future by raising private funding to advance the university and provide access for students,” ISU’s Watkins-Miller said. “However, the role of philanthropy is to support, not supplant, other funding.”
Although lawmakers in the most recent legislative session upped general education support for Iowa’s public universities by $12 million, that fell below the requested $18 million and did little to reverse recent cuts that exacerbated decades of declining support.
Where in 1981 the state provided 77 percent of the universities’ general education funding and tuition provided 21 percent, today the state funds about 30 percent and tuition revenue covers 65 percent.
It’s within that environment the universities are making bigger asks of prospective donors — hanging their plans to erect new facilities, for example, on philanthropic success.
“Right now there is a lot of energy around our building campaign for the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art,” Tiffani Shaw, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the UI Center for Advancement, said by email.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency declined to help the UI rebuild its art museum, which was lost to the 2008 flood. That forced the UI to commit to raising half the $50 million price tag of a new one. So far, about 400 donors have given $20 million of the $25 million goal.
ISU unveiled plans two weeks ago to construct a $40 million “Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Building” entirely through donations.
Shaw said giving prospective donors specific projects or areas on which they can focus their philanthropy helps them feel connected and stirred to give.
“Donors today are motivated by the challenges they see facing society — educating students to become good citizens, finding answers to big problems like clean water, and discovering treatments and cures for disease,” she said. “They are motivated to give to a cause, and they want to see how their gifts are having a direct impact on finding a solution.”
Supporters wanting to help students cope with the rising cost of education, for example, can give to a “Forevermore Scholarship,” established with specificity in mind.
“Donors who contribute can help a specific student, and see how their gift provides that student with opportunities she or he wouldn’t have otherwise,” Shaw said. “That direct connection to a student is meaningful for donors.”
The universities said most donors designate how they want their gifts used — supporting their push to promote purpose in philanthropy.
“What we consistently see is that our donors give back to areas that had an impact on their lives and are meaningful to them,” ISU’s Watkins-Miller said. “Our work has and continues to be to align donor’s passions with the needs of the university.”
Paying it forward
With heightened pressure on giving, the universities’ fundraising arms are stretching to reach potential donors in novel and personal ways.
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All three of Iowa’s public universities have launched crowdfunding sites allowing faculty, staff, student groups and alumni to solicit donations for smaller projects or initiatives — like a Hawkeye completion grant, helping UI students close to graduation get their degrees; an ISU fashion show, which raised over $26,000; and a UNI women’s basketball squad effort to raise more than $10,000 for their locker room suite.
The universities also all host specific giving days on campus. On the last “One Day for Iowa” at the UI, more than 1,900 people from all 50 states gave $1.1 million to UI colleges and programs.
Although all three universities have boasted transformational gifts that have made entire programs, centers, and buildings possible, Watkins-Miller said, “We continue to be focused on giving at various levels, because gifts of all sizes are important.”
Thus the universities are employing social media, newsletters, events and other innovations to encourage and enable all types of giving.
“We are focused on expanding programming and volunteer opportunities for alumni and friends at all stages, from recent graduates to retirees,” UI’s Shaw said, noting generosity has the power to reshape Iowa’s higher education landscape.
“Philanthropy can’t replace state funding, but it has the power to change lives,” she said.
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