Endowed funds slump behind previous years

Graphic by Yonah Bromberg Gaber | Graphics Editor

Enduring donations for scholarships and faculty positions dropped by nearly half last fiscal year, according to a new University report.

GW established 26 new endowed scholarships and professorships last fiscal year, down from 46 endowed funds in 2016. Experts said donations to launch these funds can be hard to secure because starting an endowed faculty chair or scholarship requires a significant amount of money.

Endowment funds are created when donors give money – typically large sums – to create a faculty position or scholarship that will be funded for several years to come. Endowed professorships are typically among the most sought after faculty positions at a university and are often used to attract top research talent.

Matt Manfra, the interim vice president of development and fundraising, said it’s typical for new endowments to fluctuate from year to year.

“Because the minimum gift required for an endowed fund is $100,000, cultivating gifts of this size takes time,” he said in an email.

While the total number of endowments decreased, Manfra said that the proportion of GW’s endowment that goes toward endowed professorships increased last fiscal year. Fundraising rose overall next fiscal year to $117 million.

Manfra said these types of funds set up a permanent resource to support students, help recruit and retain top faculty and advance research.

“As GW’s research profile and academic reputation expands, we are confident that we will continue to add new endowed funds in the years ahead,” he said.

After the University finished its $1 billion fundraising campaign in June, officials announced that 59 percent of donations went to academic priorities, including new professorships – more than any other area of the University. Manfra said a total of 239 new endowed funds were established during the campaign.

The number of new endowed funds this year is the lowest since 2013, down from an eight-year high of 86 in 2015.

New funds established last year included donations for all schools on campus, but several were geared toward the medical and law schools, according to the report.

Two endowed professorships were established last summer in the law school. The School of Media and Public Affairs received its largest endowed gift ever, a $3.2 million donation in October 2016.

James Plourde, vice president at the fundraising consulting firm Campbell and Company, said as young alumni take on more and more debt, it’s harder to convince them to give larger gifts – usually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – to establish endowed chairs or scholarships.

GW has tried to target young alumni in the past by recruiting them to the Council of Chairs, a fundraising group for major University donors and by starting Flag Day, a day-long fundraising event targeted at current students who are approaching alumni status.

He said endowed professorships illustrate the academic areas of the University that major donors care about and officials want to prioritize.

“You are presenting your donors with an array of investment opportunites, and ultimately it’s the donor who makes the call on where they want to the money to go,” he said.

In the past, officials have focused on endowments for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and on endowed professorships for women.

He said GW needs to engage young alumni so they are more inclined to donate when they are in a more stable financial situation.

Charlie Eaton, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California at Merced, who has written and studied endowments, said universities prefer gifts to the endowment that aren’t restricted to one endowed professorship or program because they have the flexibility to use those funds in a variety ways. Often donors want to target their gifts to causes that they personally care about.

A decrease in the number of endowed professorships isn’t significant because these kinds of donations often vary from year to year and could increase again this fiscal year, he said.

“I wouldn’t sound any alarm bells because there wasn’t an increase in endowed professorships this year,” he said.

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