AMAtlas and Library
Five Questions with Ann Kaplan about the Voluntary Support of Education Survey

In July 2018, CASE announced the acquisition of the Voluntary Support of Education annual survey. For six decades, the VSE has collected data on fundraising outcomes in higher education institutions in the United States and over that time has become a highly regarded resource, used by advancement professionals and others interested in philanthropy.

Ann Kaplan has directed the VSE since 2002, first at the Council for Aid to Education, and now as part of AMAtlas, CASE's global resource for educational advancement metrics, benchmarks and analytics. Such longevity with the VSE, its survey data and its respondents has given her a unique vantage point. CASE asked Ann to shed some light on that history and the most recent VSE survey results.

CASE: What is the biggest takeaway from the latest VSE survey?

Ann Kaplan: When the economy is strong, charitable support of colleges and universities rises. However, while that's the main finding, it's not the most interesting. The most interesting point is that when institutions make a compelling case for support and maintain strong relationships with those who care about them and whom they serve, charitable giving rises. We can easily show the effect of a strong economy on giving. But, let's not omit from the narrative the relationships that direct philanthropic impulses to specific institutions. After all, a strong economy is merely the fuel; it is not the fire.

Why is there so much anticipation about the release of these findings?

AK: The VSE has been collecting data on charitable support of higher education institutions since 1957 and is the definitive source of data on this subject. Data from the study appear in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, for example. So, the study is a regular data release whose findings represent a key thread in the tapestry of economic benchmarks about the nation. Also, those who work in the field of advancement can use broad trends as a context in which to view their own institutions' progress.

What are common questions you get following each year's release?

AK: The most common question I get is, "What surprised you about this year's findings?" I have been studying philanthropy professionally since 1991. If you stay close to the data, results shouldn't surprise you. There is a long history of giving and volunteering in this country, and indeed, it is a characteristic of most human societies, worldwide. When organizations and those who represent them make a strong case for support, and the economic environment provides sufficient catalyst, charitable giving rises.

The VSE survey is conducted mostly among colleges and universities in the United States. How could this be relevant to institutions outside the U.S.?

AK: As I mentioned above, supporting each other and civic organizations is a characteristic of human society. All stable societies have a form of voluntary support. Such generosity can be person-to-person, family-to-family, and it may include supporting organizations monetarily or through voluntarism. The U.S. happens to have thousands of educational institutions and decades of detailed data about them, and these findings can augment the study of philanthropy broadly speaking, not just as it pertains to the U.S. However, let us not lose sight of the fact that the U.S. can learn from other countries, too. Pooling our data resources can yield rich insights because the landscape of generosity is deep and varied.

Who do I contact at CASE if I have more questions about the VSE - either the results or accessing the data?

AK: If you have questions about the results, please contact me at 917-979-4827 or akaplan@case.org. If you would like to access the data via Data Miner, the online benchmarking platform, contact vse@case.org for an account. A Data Miner account is a CASE member benefit. Once you're set up, my colleague Kim Kane or I would be happy to help you get the most out of the data.