North American Donation Payment Types
In North America, an estimated $44.45 billion in charitable donations was given to higher education institutions in 2017; $43.6 billion in the U.S. and $848 million in Canada. Based on a triangulation of publicly available data, an estimated 59% of these donations went to public institutions. A 2017 report found that 7.3% of donations to higher education in North America are given online, representing a 13.2% year-over-year growth rate in online giving. You'll find a deep dive of my research below.
Despite an exhaustive search through industry reports, market research, government data, press releases, trusted media sources, and institutional reports, I could only find limited recent and publicly available data on charitable giving to public or private higher education institutions in North America, and I was not able to find a breakdown of this giving by payment type. I looked at overall industry reports, such as this one, but could not find any market research with this type of breakdown. In another approach, I looked at some of the major recipients of these donations to see if they could provide a case study, since the top 20 institutions account for 28% of giving; Harvard, for example, is the largest recipient of charitable giving. I looked at the institutions financial report to see if they provide a breakdown of donations by payment type, but couldn't find any useful data. Despite the lack of publicly available information on this topic, I was able to pull together enough data from various sources to triangulate an estimate for these figures, which I'll explain in detail in the next section.
In the U.S., charitable giving amounted to $390 billion in 2017. In Canada, the total was $10.6 billion, for a grand total of just over $400 billion for North America. Charitable giving to colleges and universities in the U.S. totaled $43.6 billion in 2017. I couldn't find a total for giving to higher education in Canada; however, according to this report, higher education accounts for roughly 8% of giving in Canada, which would make the total an estimated $848 million (8% of $10.6 billion). This makes the total for North America $44.45 billion ($848 million for Canada + $43.6 billion for the U.S.).
Despite extensive searching through industry reports, government data, market research, press releases, and other sources, I couldn't find data on donations to public educational institutions specifically. Nor could I find a breakdown of donations by institution type. However, I did learn that public university enrollment accounts for roughly 73% of higher education enrollment in the U.S., and that total higher education revenue in the U.S. was $442 billion in 2014. If we assume that enrollment and revenue will be roughly proportional, we can estimate that 73% of total university revenue in the U.S. comes from public universities, which is $322 billion. From this 2015 source, I learned that public universities typically generate 8% of their revenue from private gifts and endowment. (These sources are a bit out of date - 2014 and 2015 - however, these were the most recent statistics I could find, and I'm making the educated guess that this data would not have changed significantly in just a few years). Based on this, we can estimate that the total for giving to public universities in the U.S. is roughly $25.76 billion (8% of $322 billion). This represents 59% of the total $43.6 billion in donations to higher education, which makes sense given that public universities account for 73% of enrollment, but alumni giving to private universities tends to be both more frequent and in higher amounts, according to this report. I couldn't find data of this type for Canada; however, the vast majority of higher education institutions in Canada are public.
In terms of payment types for charitable giving, I found this report from the Blackbaud Institute, which covers charitable giving in the U.S., Canada, and the UK. According to the report, online donations account for 7.6% of charitable giving overall, as of 2017. In the higher education sector, this figure is 7.3%, slightly less than the overall average. Based on this, we can estimate that $3.24 billion (7.3%) of the total $44.45 billion in higher education charitable giving in North America was given online. The remaining 92.7%, or $41 billion, was given using offline methods. Online giving in the higher education sector grew 13.2% year-over-year from 2016 to 2017. This is notably more than the overall growth rate for higher education giving, which is 6.3%. In Canada specifically, online giving increased by 12.2% year-over-year, compared to a growth rate of only 1.5% for charitable giving overall. The findings in this report are based on data from over 8,000 institutions, so it's highly credible.
To wrap up, the total charitable giving to higher education institutions in North America is an estimated $44.45 billion. In the U.S., roughly 59% of this giving was to public institutions. Online donations accounted for an estimated 7.3% of total higher education giving.