McGill runs on $1.04 billion a year.
It is the only Canadian university to place in the top 25 of the QS World University Rankings eight years in a row, competing against privately-funded universities in North America.
Like many other schools, McGill places considerable effort into obtaining donations to support its competitive status – between 2008 and 2011, McGill received $78.5 million from 32,051 donors.
Derek Cassoff, director of communications of Development and Alumni Relations, explained that “about 75 per cent of our gifts come from individuals, the majority of whom are alumni.”
“Every donation shows not only a big financial investment, but the personal engagement speaks volumes to the rest of the community both in Montreal and Canada,” he said.
Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi pointed out that McGill “was founded as a result of a philanthropic gift – James McGill’s bequest – so our origins are in philanthropy, and like most universities, [McGill] has depended on philanthropy for a portion of its revenue.”
Ayesha Mayan, associate director of the Annual Fund – McGill’s yearly appeal to alumni, parents, faculty and staff, and friends to help support the University – pointed to a long history of alumni support. The Annual Fund has existed since 1948.
Lesley Preston, a U2 Chemistry and Political Science student, worked at the Phonathon, a program that solicits donations from alumni and parents. It hires 60 to 75 students a year, each of whom spend a minimum of eight hours a week calling potential donors.
Preston spoke to being subject to aggressive responses from some – one person she called “went on for many minutes about how he would never donate to McGill because they support Israeli apartheid.”
During the MUNACA strike, some alumni and parents expressed similar sentiments about their donations.
Still, Cassoff estimated that about 25 per cent of alumni donate.
According to Mayan, “45 per cent of our donations from the Annual Fund are under $100, which totals about half a million dollars.”
Service Point, which has existed for two years, was supported by the Annual Fund in order to create an “accessible way for students to get information they need,” said Mayan.
Alumni and parents can donate to any organization on campus. “You could donate to the Red Cross through McGill, so you’re not necessarily supporting McGill administration and stances, but the students that are trying to get involved even outside the University,” Preston said.
Mayan agreed: “The overwhelming majority of dollars we bring in go to specific programs, not the overall budget of the University.”
She explained that the Annual Fund has recently begun soliciting donations from parents of students.
“The culture of philanthropy in the States has been longer standing than in Canada,” said Mayan.
Cassoff agreed. “In Canada, there is a certain culture that education is considered as part of service that government provides,” he said.
“In the US there is a long history of private education, separate from government service,” Cassoff said. “Here, it’s equated with healthcare and other social service deliveries.”
Manfredi explained that “certainly, philanthropy is not our main revenue; McGill is largely a publically funded University.”
“I’d say philanthropy contributes in total maybe 10 to 15 per cent of the overall revenue available to the University,” he said.
“When you look at where McGill ranks internationally, we are operating with a much lower budget, and we are still having the same output on a research level,” said Mayan.
“[Donations] can have a huge impact, and an impact right away,” Mayan said.