As we celebrated the Independence of the United States of America this past 4th of July, I was reminded just how important fundraising was (and is) in the formation and nourishment of our private, non-profit organizations. Especially in the realm of post-secondary education.
While 90% of children in America attend publicly funded schools from grades K-12, 30% of young adults attend privately funded Colleges and Universities. And we know that publicly funded institutions of higher education rely more and more on private fundraising to support their missions. There is currently much weeping and gnashing of teeth in the media about the increase of tuition costs both in private and publicly funded higher education. Many folks harken back to the post-WW II period (roughly 1950 through 1990) during which university enrollments expanded rapidly, and public higher education in America was funded almost entirely through tax revenues. Sadly, those days are over.
The good news is that Americans are, in general, an extraordinarily generous people. Especially when it comes to education. Year-in and year-out surveys of giving demonstrate that educational organizations rank second to religious groups in donor priority. For private universities, the tradition of giving goes as far back as the late 1700’s. In one notable example, George Washington gave Liberty Hall Academy (now Washington and Lee University) 150 shares of James River and Potomac Canal Company stock (then valued at $20,000) to “promote literature…and to encourage the arts.” Many public universities are now in the midst of massive, multi-billion dollar private fundraising campaigns. Thankfully, through the hard work of professional fundraisers and volunteers, those institutions can rely on a generation of donors who are rising to the call despite the angst over the costs associated with higher ed.
I bring this topic to the fore at this time because it remains essential that the current and future generations of American citizens receive an education that enables them to make an informed decision when they exercise their responsibility to vote in our representative form of democratic government. This function, above all else, is the primary role of education in our society.
I am honored to be part of the fundraising profession that enables that freedom.