Fewer people gave money to colleges in 2009, and those who did gave less than usual, a study of annual funds has found.
Participation in annual funds has been on the decline for a few years, but 2009 marked the first time that annual-fund revenue dropped as well, according to the 2009 Index of Higher Education Fundraising Performance. The report examined donations to 61 public and private colleges during 2009. Although the negative trends were more marked at public colleges, there were few positive signs for either group.
The study was done by Target Analytics, which is part of Blackbaud, a provider of software to nonprofit groups.
The median participation rate for all colleges dropped from 15.9 percent in 2008 to 12.4 percent in 2009. The colleges in the survey reported an average drop in revenue of 8 percent per donor. Annual-fund revenue declined 13 percent over all—15.6 percent at public colleges and 11.2 percent at private colleges.
These numbers are consistent with the results of this year's Voluntary Support of Education survey, which reported a record 11.9-percent drop in donations during 2009. That survey, which examines all giving and is conducted by the Council for Aid to Education, found that alumni participation hit a record low, 10 percent, and that the average size of alumni gifts fell 13.8 percent from the previous year.
"Donors were simply giving less," Shaun B. Keister, associate vice president for development at Pennsylvania State University, wrote via e-mail. He helped analyze the data for Target Analytics.
The drop in revenue could have resulted from what Mr. Keister called a "self-fulfilling prophecy." Worried that donors would say no, colleges asked for less money—and so donors gave less.
The colleges that managed to defy the downward trends were those that "infused more effort" into their giving program, he said.
Rice University, for example, achieved a 10-percent increase in revenue and a 1-percent rise in participation by reaching out to young alumni—traditionally the group with the lowest participation rate, said Darrow G. Zeidenstein, vice president for resource development.
"If we hadn't done that program, we probably would have been down 2 or 3 percent," he said.
The full report is available at Blackbaud's Web site.