Private contributions from outside donors play a large role in university funding across the nation. The UW received approximately $227 million in last year’s private gifts, almost $28 million less than gifts from the preceding 2013-14 fiscal year.
“The [contribution] that is significantly smaller is [to] the School of Law,” said Walt Dryfoos, associate vice president for advancement services at the UW.
The decrease in the law school’s contributions may be in part due to Jack MacDonald, a generous donor, passing away in 2013, leaving his $187.6 million to be split up between the UW’s School of Law, the Salvation Army, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
This is the largest gift to the law school in its history, according to The Seattle Times.
With all of this money laying around, some people might wonder why public universities like the UW need funding from the legislature in the first place.
“There’s almost no unrestricted money in [private gifts],” Dryfoos said. “The donors restrict their gift, [donating to] what they want to support.”
Not only could the gift be restricted to specific things like scholarships and specific departments, but it could be on a restricted time schedule as well, like a per-year deal.
“The university doesn’t have the discretion to take the money donors gave for research and put it into scholarship money,” Dryfoos said.
In general, contributions are split relatively evenly between donors and private grants. This past year, a total of $227 million was donated to the UW as gifts, and $221.7 million as private grants.
“We are a public research university and these donations don’t and were never meant to replace state funds,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce said. “I tend to think of [the contributions] as the margin of excellence. They raise the excellence level, but they don’t replace state funds. And I want to be very clear, they shouldn’t be used to replace state funds.”
The top three schools receiving the most contributions this past year were UW Medical ($177.2 million), Arts & Sciences ($43.8 million), and Intercollegiate Athletics ($30.7 million).
The aggregate contributions information is collected monthly by the UW’s Advancement Services. At the beginning of every fiscal year, they present their information to the Board of Regents.
“It’s not a requirement, but it’s something that we do to keep the regents surprised at how we’re doing in philanthropy,” Dryfoos said.
Cauce said the information informs a whole host of decisions made by the regents. Some examples are scholarships, building and expansion at the university, professorships, and hiring students.
“I think [the contributions] are important because they really are an indication of the confidence that our external community has in us,” Cauce said.
Of the UW’s donors, there are more non-alumni than alumni. This last fiscal year, there were 56,846 non-alumni donors, approximately 10,600 more than the number of alumni donors.
“We have a lot of different supporters out there,” Dryfoos said. “There’s people who listen to our radio stations who are donors; the people who attend our football games are donors to the athletics department, but they’re not necessarily alumni. Donors who are parents, faculty, staff, or medical patients may not be alumni, but they’re still donors.”