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College Fund Raisers Predict a Return to Prerecession Levels of Giving

Charitable donations to colleges and universities increased by 5.5 percent in 2012, fund raisers at higher-education institutions reported in a twice-yearly survey that was released on Monday by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE. The fund raisers predicted additional growth of 5.8 percent in 2013.

“The recession continues to recede,” said John Lippincott, president of CASE, who added that the survey signals a return to levels of giving equal to those of the 2007-8 academic year, when donations reached a record $31.6-billion. Gifts to higher education plunged after the global economic downturn but were back up to $30.3-billion in 2010-11.

“Anecdotally we are hearing from our members and from fund raisers of growing confidence among their donor community,” he said. “The donors themselves are feeling better about their own personal financial circumstances and the overall economic environment, where in the past they were reluctant to make commitments.”

Mr. Lippincott cited a $350-million gift by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York to the Johns Hopkins University, announced on Sunday, as “one more welcome reminder” of rising donor confidence.

According to CASE, some donors made large gifts in late 2012 because of proposals during the “fiscal cliff” negotiations in Washington that would have reduced the value of the charitable-gift tax deduction. The deduction remains tied to a donor’s marginal tax rate, Mr. Lippincott said, which continues to be a boon for philanthropy in the United States.

He cautioned, however, that the short-term nature of the fiscal repairs leaves philanthropists nervous.

“If we see significant changes being discussed in the tax code in the coming months as part of future negotiations in Congress,” Mr. Lippincott said, “it could cause some concern among the donors.”

Community colleges were the biggest gainers in higher education last year, reported the fund raisers, who reported a 7-percent increase for 2012 and predicted a 6.8-percent increase for 2013.

“A lot of what that reflects is that, as the community-college sector as a whole has invested more in their advancement operations, they’re actually seeing a payoff from it,” Mr. Lippincott said. “We’re just delighted to see that because, roughly speaking, community colleges educate about 50 percent of undergraduates in this country, and they raise about 1 percent of the philanthropic support for higher education.”

The survey, conducted online in January among fund raisers at more than 2,100 institutions in the United States that are members of CASE, had a response rate of 11.7 percent.

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