This Higher Education Spotlight is adapted from the CCS Fundraising 2024 Philanthropy Pulse report to provide an in-depth look at nonprofits in this sector.

Download the Higher Education Spotlight infographic, or explore the 2024 Philanthropy Pulse report in its entirety.

This Higher Education Sector Spotlight is adapted from CCS’s 2024 Philanthropy Pulse report to provide an in-depth look at the data provided by 56 survey respondents from that sector. The most recent data reports that higher education institutions witnessed a notable 12.5% increase in philanthropic donations, reaching $59.50 billion, with significant growth in donations directed towards restricted endowments, largely for scholarships, and academic research.

A variety of higher education organizations are represented in this year’s report.

fundraising practices

Most institutions (63%) report revenue increases vs. their prior fiscal year, which is the highest rate among each of the other sectors and the combined rate (57%). About two in five (43%) schools get 20% or less of their giving in the form of noncash assets. Though often overlooked, there is potential in retirement assets for charitable giving; institutions of higher education might consider focusing on noncash donation vehicles that offer personal financial advantages during major gift conversations.

Most funding for institutions of higher education comes from major gifts, followed by foundation and corporate grants. Notably, 11% of all corporate giving over the past 20 years has gone towards higher education.

higher education projections and priorities

Seventy-seven (77%) of participants expect major and mid-level gifts and annual appeals to increase in 2024, which is the greatest rate when compared to other sectors. Likewise, seventy-seven (77%) of respondents believe DEI is important to define their school’s values, which is the same percentage reflected across sectors. Fundraising for DEI initiatives at colleges and universities will remain a key link between school values and DEI outcomes, such as the growing need for support reflected in a recent national survey.

staffing and resourcing in the higher education sector

In 2023, 29% of responding institutions increased their fundraising staff, compared to about one-third across sectors. While 68% of all organizations increased staff pay by 1-10% over the past three years, 75% of schools in this sector saw an increase. Managing fundraising efficiency and staff ratios in light of these evolving sector dynamics remains an important way to maximize ROI and employee satisfaction.

donor acquisition and retention

Alumni continue to be a key source of new and existing donors among institutions of higher education. The top three alumni engagement strategies include alumni reunions/events (59%), annual giving campaigns (50%), and targeted digital communications (43%).

Forty-five percent (45%) of higher education institutions indicate that their number of new donors has increased in the past 12 months, as compared to 57% across sectors. Colleges and universities might consider sourcing new donors by re-engaging those closest to their organization, including board members and faculty.

Fifty percent (50%) of schools report retaining over half of their new donors over the past 12 months, compared to 67% overall.

data and technology in higher education fundraising

Sixty-one percent (61%) of participants describe their organization’s reporting and analytics capabilities at a leading level or higher of sophistication, versus 58% across sectors. In recent years, great strides have been made at universities across the country to develop comprehensive data management protocols.

The two most common measures of efficacy and performance tracked by institutions of higher education are the number of new gifts (76%) and the number of proposals/solicitations (69%). While 58% of all organizations have not addressed the use of AI technology in their operations, 70% in this sector have not.

The data on this page was curated from a questionnaire taken by over 600 responding organizations during the fall of 2023, reporting on FY23 results.