With declining state support, increased financial need on the part of the fastest growing demographic sections of the population, and public policy that discourages major increases in tuition for public higher education, the only logical source of additional finances for public colleges and universities is increased private funding through philanthropic contributions. The purpose of the present study was to examine what motivated individuals to make major gifts of $25,000 or more to the Bowling Green State University (BGSU) Building Dreams Centennial Campaign, and to identify the characteristics of these donors. Data were collected from the Building Dreams Campaign Survey, which was sent to all 310 individuals who gave $25,000 or more. A total of 58% of those contacted responded to the survey. The survey solicited feedback on the size of the campaign gift, motivations for making the gift, and demographic data such as household income, geographic location of home, whether or not the individual was an alumnus, length of time he or she had been a donor to BGSU, gender, and age. To determine whether each participant had served on a volunteer board at BGSU, and if so, which one(s), information was obtained through the Office of Alumni and Development database, which is the database of record for university board service.
The first research question asked: Does the amount of the major gift differ by age, geographic region, and gender? The results showed that there is a significant difference by age, with donors in the 70-79 years of age category giving the most, and also by gender, with men giving more than women. There was not a statistical significance in giving by geographic region. The second research question asked: Does the amount of major gift differ by the presence of motivational factors? Respondents were given 20 different possible motivational factors and were allowed to choose as many of them as they wished. Only one of these factors was significantly related to the amount of the gift. The factor of Being Asked was negatively related to the amount of the gift. Research question three asked: Does serving on a voluntary board at the university impact the amount of gift? The results showed that there was a positive relationship between serving on a board and the size of gift, and that those who served on the Board of Trustees or Foundation Board gave significantly more than those who served on other boards at the institution. The fourth research question asked which motivational factors and demographic variables best predict the amount of gift. The variables entered into the equation were Income, Leaving a Legacy, Age, Identification with a Project, and Board Participation. Income accounted for the greatest amount of variance in the amount of giving.
Findings from the study can assist university administrators, development professionals and researchers interested in philanthropic giving obtain a better understanding of the characteristics and motivations of potential major donors. Ultimately, this knowledge can better utilize both human and financial resources in development offices in higher education, by helping development officers to identify and develop relationships with potential donors, determine which individuals to consider for board service, and ultimately, asking them for donations.