Like other nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities rely on gifts to continue to operate at a high level. Whether they need funding to start a new program or construct a new building, donations are the best way to obtain these goals.

Overall donations are increasing in colleges and universities

During the Great Recession, colleges had more difficulty obtaining donations. However, now that the economy has recovered, these institutions are once again finding success with their fundraising programs. In 2013, alumni, foundations, and other organizations gave almost $34 million to North American colleges and universities, according to a survey from the Council for Aid To Education cited by U.S. News and World Report.

The top 10 institutions that received the highest number of donations raised at least $400 million in 2013. Stanford University had the highest level of gifts, with $931.57 million, followed by Harvard, which raised $792.26 million.

In an interview with the news source, Ann Kaplan, the survey’s director, said that institutions that receive a certain level of funding often have additional operations that utilize these donations, such as arts programs or scientific research. Donors that are making large gifts often look to fund these types of projects.

Wealthier schools receive greater donations

Big gifts can account for significant portions of overall fundraising efforts. For instance, The Wall Street Journal just reported that Harvard received its largest donation ever from the family of Gerald Chan, an investor and Harvard alum. The donation was for $350 million. Philanthropy News Digest also reported that the University of California – Santa Barbara just received a gift of $65 million. The donation is meant to help the school construct a housing facility for scientists.

Large contributions like these could be one reason that the richest institutions continue to attract greater funds than other organizations, the Journal noted.

The Journal also cited findings from Moody’s, which reported that schools with endowments of more than $1 billion saw a 41 percent increase in average gifts, while those with endowments of under $25 million saw just a 33 percent increase. Similarly, educational institutions with more than $1 million in cash and investments received 67 percent of gift dollars overall in 2013, an increase from 62 percent in 2003.

Several factors could influence this trend. For instance, organizations that are already wealthy can invest in tools that enable the schools to target donors with the means and the desire to give. These schools are also able to recruit the best researchers and fundraising, professionals.

This can make it difficult for less affluent institutions to compete. However, there are things they can do.

Other strategies 

The website npENGAGE cited the fundraising success story of Valencia College Foundation. The existence of the foundation itself is an example of a unique way universities and colleges can fund various initiatives. The organization is a nonprofit that operates separately from the college and uses its assets to provide for the educational needs of Valencia that can’t be met through state aid or tuition.

The foundation has also been successful in raising money through creative means. For instance, the organization used peer-to-peer fundraising to supplement its campaign offline. One way the measure achieved success was that the campaign was meant to fund one thing specifically: scholarships for first-generation college students At the end of the campaign, the organization raised more than $203,000, with the promise of a matching grant

Peer-to-peer fundraising is a great way to spread a message more effectively. Moreover, it’s a popular method for millennials who are less likely to give huge amounts but want to spread a message. The foundation identified potential fundraiser candidates and trained them on campus, where they each registered fundraising pages.

The organization also utilized a communications plan to engage with potential donors and spread the word. In addition to email, the organization used social media and blogging and even aired a radio advertisement on the local public radio station.

Not all institutions can attract large gifts from individual donors. For these organizations, other strategies may be necessary. Schools can achieve great success by going after a larger number of contributors and gaining smaller amounts from each individual. Also, investing in better donor management software can help colleges maintain relationships with previous contributors year after year.