AGB Was... Eye Opening

This past few days at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges annual Foundation Leadership Forum were eye opening. We loved spending time with our nation's institutional leadership, learning from them, sharing our story, and developing ways to advance American higher education.

One moment, in particular, truly stood out to me. A senior state level advancement leader shared that, despite proving each dollar invested in advancement netted $7 in donor investment return (nearly $10 when including deferred and planned gifts), the state would not increase foundation and development funding.


In any other world, were you to tell someone, "if you give me a dollar, I'll hand you $1.10 in a year," they'd jump for joy. Last year the Dow returned negative 2.23%. The S&P 500 negative 0.73%. And the NASDAQ returned 5.73%. The development org in question returned 600%.

Let me restate that: a development org at the state level showed proof of a 600% return. If I could buy stock in higher education fundraising, I would. And, for all you alternative asset folks out there, that might just be a clever solution to get these teams the funding they deserve.

I can't begin to imagine why a state wouldn't fund that. When foundations grow, tuition and education costs come off the taxpayer. There is not a single person in that whole equation that loses. Donors connect more. Schools become more financially stable. Students enjoy lower tuitions. And taxpayers pay less taxes.

What we can know, for certain, is that the mandate to prove value has never been clearer. Whether it's gift officer headcount or alumni engagement at events, if spend isn't clearly tracking back to returns, anyone - public or private - should expect shaving. It isn't right, but it isn't avoidable either.

How are you proving the value of your work? We want to hear!

Rachael Stein