Nonprofit news roundup for Dec. 8, 2008

Americans pinch pennies during holidays

Nearly seven in 10 Americans are planning to cut back their holiday spending this year, says a poll by CNN, the network reported Dec. 8 (see holiday story). In response to the economic turmoil, more people are slashing their gift-giving budgets than are cutting back on leisure activities and major purchases such as furniture and appliances, says Keating Holland, polling director for CNN. Charitable giving in the U.S. this year is on track to fall below last year’s $306 billion, says Ben Pierce, executive director of Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 5 [subscription only].

U.S. universities brace for crunch time

U.S. colleges and universities, long accustomed to strong inflows of financial support, are scrambling to save money as endowments are predicted to plummet an average of nearly 30 percent this academic year, The Boston Globe reported Dec. 8 (see college story). Even the wealthiest schools in the U.S., including Harvard University, Dartmouth College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are slashing building projects and freezing hiring to make up for investment losses.

Harvard raises $1.5 billion to repay debt

Harvard University sold $1.5 billion in taxable bonds to repay short-term debt and cancel certain interest-rate swap agreements, The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 6 (see bonds story) [subscription only]. The Ivy-League school is preparing to sell $600 million in tax-exempt bonds in the wake of its staggering $8 billion investment loss between June 30 and Oct. 31.

West Virginia sees drop in university endowments

The private endowments of both Marshall University and West Virginia University each have lost about a fifth of their value in the past four months, The Charleston Daily Mail reported Dec. 5. The West Virginia University Foundation, which manages the Morgantown-based university’s private donations and investments, lost $66 million, or 18 percent of its value, since the end of June. Huntington-based Marshall University’s $85 million endowment plunged by 22 percent in the same period.

In Brief:

* U.S. corporations need to downsize holiday philanthropy campaigns, which fail to address pressing needs year-round, says Melissa McCabe in an opinion column in The Washington Post Dec. 7.

* Nonprofit leaders throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in California are pushing for public-policy changes to aid their struggles with plunging donations and skyrocketing needs, The San Jose Mercury News reported Dec. 5.

* The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave $27 million to the Minnesota-based McKnight Foundation to study food crops in developing countries worldwide, The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Dec. 7. The five-year grant would double the amount the McKnight Foundation spends on agriculture research each year.

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