Universities expect the fundraising increase to continue through 2011.

Seven in 10 colleges and universities have recorded an uptick in donations this year after historic decreases in 2009-10, and experts said Facebook and Twitter adoption could be a driving force behind the optimism among campus fundraisers.

Ten percent of campuses reported “significant increases” over the past six months and 35 percent reported “moderate increases” in a survey released April 7. Twenty-two percent of colleges recorded a “little increase” in donations.

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The survey, conducted by Campus Management Corp. – maker of the Talisma Fundraising donor management system – proved drastically different than similar surveys and reports detailing the state of higher-education fundraising during the country’s economic downturn.

Almost every institution polled – 94 percent – said fundraising officials expect the increase in donor activity to continue into the second half of 2011, with 13 percent anticipating a “significant increase.” Six percent of campuses expect no increase in donor activity.

Contributions to colleges and universities fell by 11.9 percent in 2009, and alumni giving dropped sharply, according to the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), an organization that tracks educational donations nationwide.

The steep drop came after a decade that saw college fundraising rise by about 4 percent annually. CAE’s report showed that even the largest institutions were not immune to the economic slump that started in fall 2008–the 20 top-fundraising universities in 2009 brought in $7.3 billion, or about $1.1 billion less than in 2008.

College fundraising in 2010 remained almost flat, according to industry estimates.

The much-anticipated uptick in campus donations, higher-education fundraising experts said, has coincided with massive campaigns on Twitter and Facebook designed to draw donations not just from alums, but also from people who have never stepped foot on campus.

“Social media helps alumni to stay more connected to their alma mater … [and] it allows non-alumni to learn about and connect with an institution,” said Marybeth Gasman, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and author of several books on educational philanthropy. “There are some people who are holding out, but they will soon become the minority.”

Dan Germain, director of Florida-based Talisma North America, said campus fundraising decision makers have adopted more social media use as alums have become more adept at tweeting and sharing items on Facebook.

“I think social media is always important as the constituency of supporters grow younger and younger over time,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that online fundraising is playing a big role right now.”

Germain said social media has allowed colleges and universities to share donation web pages with alumni who can share the pages with friends on Facebook, for example.

Just like Facebook users share links to donations to cancer research organizations, Germain said, alumni can use social media posts to encourage friends and family to join the fundraising effort for a new library or stadium.

“It gives [alumni] the ability to push a cause to their circle of friends and gives them the chance to contribute as well,” he said. “It gives a personal touch to fundraising.”

Raising money via the internet comes with its drawbacks, Germain said. Alums are much less likely to hand over big donations online. Face to face, he said, it’s much harder to say no.

“There’s always some debate about how much colleges should rely on social media,” Germain said. “It’s always easier to make a small donation online.”

College fundraising rose by less than 1 percent in 2010. Private liberals arts campuses saw the largest donor increase at 2.9 percent from 2009 to 2010, and “specialized private institutions” saw a staggering 20 percent drop last year, according to CAE.

Donations from foundations grew by 2 percent in 2010 and by 2.4 percent among corporations.

The jump in higher education donations could partly result from a renewed willingness to ask for larger checks as the national economy recovers and alumni become more apt to sign a check with an extra zero or two.

“I think that colleges and universities are asking more since there was a lull for a few years,” Gasman said. “The more you ask, the more you receive. It was quite difficult to ask for a few years.”


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