CASE Study of Principal Gifts Provides Insights for U.S. Colleges and Universities

By Bill Jarvis , Bank of America, an AGB Mission Partner August 9, 2022 Blog Post

Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.

AGB members are well acquainted with the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), the leading membership organization for college and university fundraisers. As many institutions focus on cultivating and attracting transformational donations, CASE has released an important and timely new study of principal gifts to higher education, sponsored by Bank of America.

The 2022 CASE Study of Principal Gifts to U.S. Colleges and Universities examines the largest gifts by individuals and foundations to community colleges and four-year institutions over the five-year period ending June 30, 2021. It is based upon proprietary research into gifts to 70 specific institutions, set in the context of data on giving to over 1,100 institutions from CASE’s long-running study of Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) and the 2021 Bank of America Study of Philanthropy’s analysis of the giving behaviors of more than 1,600 U.S. households. The study finds that for many colleges and universities, gifts of varying sizes can have lasting and cumulative effects at the institution. Among many major findings:

  • Twenty-five of the 70 principal gifts reported to CASE through the study were for less than $5 million.
  • The median value of the largest gifts from individuals rose by 31 percent in inflation-adjusted terms between 2005 and 2021. Similarly, the median largest gifts from foundations rose by 35 percent during the same period.

Among other useful insights, the study shows that the generous people and organizations providing these gifts are varied and do not fit into preconceived notions. Only half of the individuals giving the largest gifts are alumni. Moreover, while many donors have longstanding ties to the institutions they support, a sizable minority are new friends. The study, when viewed in conjunction with Bank of America’s Study of Philanthropy, longstanding research on giving by affluent donors conducted in collaboration with the IUPUI Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, shines a spotlight on the nature of transformational gifts to higher education.

These gifts not only fund important institutional priorities, they also can act as a catalyst for additional giving. Here is a summary of the key findings from the CASE Study of Principal Gifts:

Gift Structures and Components

  • Family foundations, trusts, or other private philanthropic vehicles were the most common funding source for the principal gifts reported, contributing to 60 percent of gifts.
  • Cash and cash equivalents were a component of 40 percent of reported gifts.
  • Thirty percent of gifts included a bequest component.

Gift Purposes

  • The majority of principal gifts were intended to provide long-term or perpetual benefits to the institution.
  • Nearly two-thirds of all gifts were designated in whole or part for endowment. However, these gifts often funded other priorities as well; 41 percent of principal gifts included support for capital projects and one third funded designated current use purposes. Only 14 percent of the gifts included unrestricted current use funding.
  • Scholarships, fellowships, and other student financial aid were the most common philanthropic purposes funded.
  • Just under half of the gifts (46 percent) provided funding for new buildings or renovations and one-third of gifts were designated for academic programs.
  • The possibility of galvanizing additional giving was cited as a goal of 56 percent of gifts, suggesting that institutions and donors see principal or transformational gifts as an exemplary act with the potential to stimulate giving by others.

Donor Characteristics and Gift Solicitation

  • Non-alumni donors made half of the gifts.
  • While more than half of donors had long-term relationships with the institution (11 to 40 years), 21 percent had been engaged for three years or less.
  • On average, the gifts studied took 19.6 months to secure (from initial discussions with the donor to final agreement).
  • Chief advancement officers and presidents and chancellors were most frequently involved in the development of gift proposals.

Please contact Cara Giacomini of CASE ( or William Jarvis of Bank of America ( to learn more about this study or arrange for a presentation to your institution.

Bill Jarvis is managing director, philanthropic executive, Bank of America

With Thanks to AGB Mission Partner: Bank of America

Bank of America