The NYT has a nice section on Giving, including one piece which gets at something I’ve been thinking about for awhile – a lot of charity nowadays isn’t going to the poor. I don’t think families/individuals are being philanthropic of they simply give money to their alma matter. The best colleges and universities still serve the privileged by giving money back to the college you went to, you are perpetuating an instituation which leaves the poor behind. I’ve written in the past about how a lot of aid seems to flow to non-critical causes, since hunger in Africa isn’t exactly close to home.
Ben Stein riffed on this a month ago when he wondered why he still gives money to Yale Law School, when $500 in a $13 B fund has a much less impact than $500 to about a million other charities. After a lot of mail, he changed his POV a week later saying "it’s OK for emotional ties to override reason"; in other words, he likes his Yale, so it doesn’t matter whether giving money there still makes sense.
At Harvard University’s current rate of growth, its endowment will be larger than the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest foundation, in three years. And while Harvard increased its spending last year on financial aid for undergraduates to $80 million a year, that figure represents less than .5 percent of its $22 billion endowment, and only about 2 percent of the approximately $4 billion it earned last year on its investments.
"For the past 15 to 20 years, educational institutions have been funded primarily by tuition and fees, not donations," Professor Colombo said. "We’re conditioned to think of them as charities, but they aren’t."