The College Donor Digest

Resolutions for the Savvy College Donor

January 24, 2024 | Emily Burden Rees

The new year offers fresh opportunities to make gifts with a meaningful impact for students and the future of higher education. Giving well poses difficult questions—How do you ensure your funds are used as promised? Are colleges still even worth supporting? We think so, and these eight resolutions can help you be a savvy college donor in 2024. They are drawn from the Fund for Academic Renewal’s (FAR) Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving, which offers a deeper dive into the complex landscape of higher education philanthropy. 

  1. Clearly Define Your Goals: Identify the area of higher education you would like to support, whether it is scholarships for low-income students, funding groundbreaking research, or enhancing campus infrastructure. Clear, defined goals help prevent misunderstandings between donors and universities about the purpose of a gift.
  2. Take a Close Look: Before committing to a gift, research the potential recipient. Evaluate the program or institution’s financial stability, effectiveness, and alignment with your philanthropic goals. Start by reviewing college mission statements, graduation requirements, academic catalogs, and departmental websites.
  3. Consider Multi-year Pledges: Multi-year pledges allow colleges to plan for long-term growth and initiatives. These pledges demonstrate your unwavering support and can encourage others to be generous. Making future gifts conditional on scrupulous financial reporting also incentivizes colleges to keep the terms of the agreement. And if an institution violates your agreement you will have an emergency exit.
  4. Choose the Right Vehicle: There is no single right way to structure your gift to higher education. Giving personally, through a private foundation, or through a donor-advised fund are three different strategies to protect donor intent. Familiarize yourself with the safeguards and potential hazards of each vehicle before giving.
  5. Find a Campus Partner: Donors often communicate solely with a university’s development team and sometimes the college president or a dean. Cultivate a relationship with a faculty member who knows the campus culture and the institution’s priorities. Their insights can help you tailor your giving to areas of greatest need.
  6. Respect Academic Freedom: Donors have a right to direct their gift to any purpose they wish, but not to demand that the institution advocate anyone’s particular political, religious, or personal beliefs. Propose specific ideas, but steer clear of micromanaging. Offer to support a subject area, like free enterprise, rather than attempting to require a specific syllabus or instituting or approving curriculum decisions.
  7. Seek Advice: Leverage the expertise of philanthropy and wealth advisors to navigate the complexities of higher education giving. Advisors like FAR can help you identify suitable recipients, craft effective giving strategies, and maximize tax benefits.
  8. Celebrate Success: Your giving helps higher education fulfill its mission to pursue knowledge and truth and that should be celebrated. Sharing your story with others can inspire future giving and continue the cycle of improving higher education.

By embracing these resolutions, savvy college donors can make a profound and lasting contribution to the future of higher education, shaping the lives of students and advocating for excellence. If you would like to learn more about how to craft gifts with enduring impact, request a copy of The Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving.

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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.