The Ivy Coach Daily

January 29, 2024

Ivy League Grad Donations: Top Donors

A banner hangs at Harvard for the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Over these last few months, we’ve seen more than ever the power of donors across the Ivy League. Historically, most big-ticket donors to Ivy League institutions have exercised their power behind the scenes, earmarking their money for professorships, programs, buildings, and stadiums. Of course, we often see their names on such professorships, programs, buildings, and stadiums, but that’s just a little reward for how old money gives back.

Big-Ticket Ivy League Donors Have Recently Been Exercising Their Power Publicly

Yet, over these last few months, many Ivy League donors have exercised their power not behind the scenes but on Twitter and in the press. Many of these donors have become — and rightly so — outspoken critics of their alma maters, shining sunlight on the despicable acts of antisemitism on Ivy League campuses and the abysmal responses of these institutions’ leadership. 

At Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania in particular, after their now ex-presidents delivered abhorrent testimony before Congress in which they failed to condemn students calling for the genocide of Jewish students on their campuses, big-ticket donors like Harvard alumnus Bill Ackman and Penn alumnus Marc Rowan effectively mounted so much public pressure on their alma maters that the schools had no choice but to part ways with their leaders (although it also took a plagiarism scandal for Harvard’s leader to lose her post).

Ivy Coach Commends These Big-Ticket Ivy League Donors for Calling for Necessary Change

We at Ivy Coach commend Bill Ackman, Marc Rowan, and all of the big-ticket donors (including Cornell University alumnus Jon Lindseth this week) who spoke truth to power and used their platforms to call for change at their alma maters, to call for the administrations of these institutions to lead with their shared humanity and not legalese. Calling for the genocide of Jews is not a comment that needs to be understood in context as the Harvard and Penn former presidents so despicably asserted.

But while the sunlight these major donors have shined on their Ivy League alma maters has served as a powerful antiseptic, it’s also raised the profile of the existence of this class of alumni whose significant donations through the years have shaped the institutions as we know them. So, who exactly are the major donors at our nation’s Ivy League schools?

How Ivy League Schools Classify Donors

Ivy League schools don’t release lists of the precise size of their individual alum donations. After all, that would be gauche. But the Ivy League schools do release their annual reports on giving in which some list the names of certain alumni in various brackets or, in some cases, certain societies. After all, donating a certain amount or giving every year since graduation at certain Ivies could lead to membership in various societies. It’s not like these societies meet regularly or, in some cases, at all, but there’s a certain prestige to being listed as a member. And, hey, since these big-ticket donors receive preferential treatment for their children in the admissions process, what other perks could they need?

In any case, drum roll, please…below is a breakdown of how each of the eight Ivy League schools classifies their donors and, in the case of Columbia University, we’ve listed recent big-ticket donors to the institution:

Brown University

Brown University classifies its donors into the following categories:

Columbia University

Columbia University’s fundraising website classifies donors into the following categories:

“Leadership Donors” who have gifted or pledged in excess of $1 million to the Columbia Core to Commencement Campaign are listed on the campaign’s website as follows:

*These lists reflect donors who have made gifts or pledges to the Core to Commencement campaign of $1,000,000 or more from January 1, 2014 through March 10, 2021.

^ Deceased

P: Parent

W: Widow

Cornell University

Cornell University classifies donors into the following categories:

Dartmouth College

The Dartmouth College Fund terms their donor recognition system “Honor Roll.” The Honor Roll website provides a comprehensive list of all Dartmouth donors. Honor Roll classifies donors into the following categories: 

Harvard University

The Harvard College Fund classifies donors into the following categories:

Princeton University

Princeton University does not share its donor classification system publicly. The Princeton University alumni website simply distinguishes between annual gifts, planned gifts, capital gifts, corporate and foundation gifts, and “Friends Groups” gifts to support specific campus organizations such as a particular sports team or museum. Donors who name Princeton in their will, IRA, insurance policy, bank account, or those who create a charitable trust or charitable gift annuity join the 1746 Society, which is composed of over 2,600 living members.

University of Pennsylvania

The Penn Fund classifies donors into two “Giving Societies:”

Yale University

For Humanity (a bit much, don’t you think?), Yale’s Fundraising Campaign, classifies donors into the following categories:

A Final Word on Big-Ticket Donors to the Ivies

The pressure that Harvard alumnus Bill Ackman exerted on his alma mater over these last few months led to the resignation of the Ivy League school’s president. And we commend Bill Ackman for leading this charge for needed change.

But Harvard’s Board — a Board that we’d argue should also resign in shame for their complicity in the events surrounding the plagiarism scandal of its former leader, its silence in the face of rampant antisemitism on the school’s campus, and its inept presidential search that led to the hiring of the president in the first place — found itself in an unenviable position. They didn’t want to make it seem like they were kowtowing to a big-ticket donor, that the university could so publicly be influenced by its benefactors. Yet they had little choice because of the board’s combination of moral bankruptcy and ineptitude.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if big-ticket donors find renewed courage to stand up to their alma maters when they see opportunities for significant improvement. And it will be interesting to see how the Ivy League schools respond to such calls for change. Stay tuned!

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