The College Donor Digest

Giving Locally

September 22, 2021 | Emily Burden Rees

Americans have turned special attention in recent years to supporting small businesses, farmer's markets, and area artisans. It is undoubtedly in vogue to stop locally.  

But what about “giving locally”? Big picture philanthropy aims at tackling expansive societal issues when focusing on the small picture can also be very powerful. Kristen Hermes at Philanthropy Daily writes, “Local charity might not attack ‘root problems,’ but it can solve problems in one person’s life—and to them, that feels like the whole world.” Philanthropy is about more than the metrics of measurable impact—it’s about the immeasurable impact of individuals. 

Giving local and buying local offers similar benefits: investment in the community and human connection. Supporting a neighborhood soup kitchen and purchasing handmade soaps from the weekly farmer’s market both send dollars back into the community and rely upon face-to-face interactions that facilitate personal connections.  

Donating to a nearby college or university is often overlooked by those seeking to make an impact in their own backyards. 

Philanthropists who choose to give to a local school have a unique opportunity to watch their gift come to life. For example, FAR recently worked with two donors who graduated from nationally prominent universities with large endowments. Instead of sending their gift all the way across the country to their alma maters, where only mega-donations stand out, these donors chose a regional university near their home. They developed personal relationships with faculty, one of whom proposed the idea of an endowed lecture series, the first gift of its kind to the school. The donors carefully structured their donation in order to start the lecture series during their lifetime. By regularly attending the events, they observe firsthand how their gift is making a difference.  

Supporting a local college is also one of the best ways to promote the flourishing of the entire community, as colleges generate opportunities for young people, offer educational programs to the public, develop future civic leaders, and even provide jobs for community members. According to UnivStats, higher education employs 3.6 million people nationally. Donors at all levels help local colleges and universities employ not just professors, but also student employees, staff, groundskeepers, and construction crews.  

By giving to local colleges and universities, donors can form human connections and observe the ripple effect of their gift throughout their entire community. Giving locally, like buying locally, can help Americans see the impact of their dollars in their own backyard and can contribute to building the successful communities that are the backbone of a strong, healthy democracy.


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The Fund for Academic Renewal is a program of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization as defined by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. All contributions to FAR are fully tax-deductible to the maximum extent provided by law.