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Solutions to Declining Unrestricted Gifts

As unrestricted giving to U.S. colleges and universities declines, fundraisers must find creative ways to secure support for their institutions, say two CASE faculty members.

Jennifer Bernstein, vice president for development and alumni relations at Pace University, and Rick Reiss, senior vice president of university advancement at Fairleigh Dickinson University, told attendees of a recent CASE webinar that the percentage of all gifts to American higher education that are both unrestricted and support current operations has fallen steadily during the past three decades. Bernstein and Reiss cited many reasons for this decline, including the fact that donors at all levels are increasingly concerned with the return on their gifts and are taking a more strategic and investment-oriented approach to their giving.

Bernstein offered several ways that fundraising can adapt to this growing trend, including:

  • Convince leadership to move to a restricted annual fund. She said fundraisers should provide leadership data that shows unrestricted giving is declining across all of higher education and note this is "not a failure of your development shop."
  • Use directed giving, crowdfunding and day-of-giving campaigns. Bernstein said that directed giving, for example, allows donors to funnel their gifts to broad budget-funding categories but not to confine their contributions to specific areas. She added that this empowers donors with choice and provides an in-house method of identifying the affinity of a prospect.
  • Refocus on fundamentals, especially stewardship. She said it's easier to receive support from existing donors than gain brand-new ones. Given this, she said, fundraisers should steward directed-giving donors by reminding them how their gifts have made a difference.

For more information, purchase an archived version of the CASE webinar "The Fall of Unrestricted Giving." In addition, check out the full list of CASE webinars scheduled for the coming months.

This article is from the August 2014 issue of BriefCASE.