A student hugs a professor during commencement in 2023.

Powerful beyond measure: How gifts of all kinds make a difference

No matter what your generosity looks like, it matters. It helps Cornell do the greatest good by reaching students in need of support and research that helps communities all over the world. And your contribution strengthens the university’s legacy as a source of solutions for our time, and for all time.

Ever wonder why Cornell needs your support? Explore some common questions and answers to learn why Cornell needs gifts of all shapes and sizes to support students and researchers across the university.

Why does Cornell need financial support?

Cornell students
Students work together to develop a robotic prototype in Upson Hall during a week-long summer seminar.

Cornell’s budget comes from different sources. This helps the university pay for costs that aren’t covered by tuition and fees. Having many different kinds of revenue helps Cornell avoid financial risk. It also ensures that the university can continue to adapt.

Like all U.S. colleges and universities, Cornell relies on donors to help keep its budget healthy and diverse. Cash gifts help cover operating expenses each year, including costs associated with financial aid. They also allow the university to fund new opportunities, expenses, and areas of need.

To put it in perspective, cash gifts contributed $335 million to the university in fiscal year 2023 (July 2022-June 2023). That accounts for 6% of Cornell’s total operating budget!

Can’t Cornell just rely on its endowment?

No, and to understand why, it’s important to know how an endowment actually works. A common belief is that an endowment is a big bank account from which the university can withdraw money. This isn’t the case.

An endowment is actually a collection of invested capital. Endowed gifts make up a part of the endowment. These gifts can only be used for purposes designated by the donor. Cornell can’t withdraw funds from its endowment. Instead, Cornell can only use a portion of the endowment’s earnings. The payout rate for these earnings is determined by the Cornell University Board of Trustees. Funds generated support university priorities and the designated uses of each endowed gift.

Simply put, earnings from the endowment can’t cover all operating costs. This is why Cornell relies on a healthy mix of current-use gifts and endowments.

But how does a $50 gift actually make a difference?

Students working together
Summer architecture students work on a project in Milstein Hall.

Gifts of all sizes make a difference because they’re part of something much bigger. These gifts build momentum. They add to the spending power of other gifts like it.

Your gift and many like it often fund Cornell’s current-use needs. Many of these gifts directly support students, whether it’s through financial aid or other vital student services that support their success at Cornell. Your gift can also support any project, program, or cause at the university. It can help student organizations or places on campus that you care about. It can also support faculty research projects that strive to do the greatest good for the world.

Collectively, current-use gifts have roughly 20 times more spending power than an endowed gift. Assuming a normal endowment payout, every $50 million in current-use funds is roughly equivalent to the payout of a $1 billion endowment.

In other words, a gift of any size is incredibly powerful. It ensures the university can adapt to the needs of its students and researchers. It adds to a critical source of funding for the university, and it helps close gaps in funding where endowed gifts cannot.

Why does my involvement matter?

Your relationship with Cornell is lifelong. Learning and community-building opportunities with Cornell can help you grow throughout your lifetime. Your involvement—from mentoring students to attending events to making a financial gift of any size—permits you to choose how Cornell can enrich your life and the people in it.

No matter what your involvement looks like, it creates momentum. It inspires fellow Cornellians to join you. For that reason, your participation is powerful beyond measure. It helps support a shared tradition of love and pride that yells Cornell.

I’m not in a position to make a financial contribution. How else can I help?

Students study outside
Students study outside of Willard Straight Hall.

Share your time as a volunteer. You’ll make a big impact by helping others build stronger connections to Cornell no matter where they are in the world.

While Cornell encourages all alumni and friends to stay involved by making a gift of any size or shape, sharing your time as a volunteer is a great way to connect, contribute, and lead when you aren’t in a position to make a financial gift. Sharing your time with Cornell matters, and it helps the university in its pursuit to do the greatest good for students and for the world.

And remember that volunteer opportunities are flexible. Some opportunities can be done online, while others can be done in person. You can commit to opportunities that only require a day of service, or you can choose roles that require a greater time commitment. Regardless of which opportunities you pursue, Cornell benefits—and so can you.

How your gifts of all kinds make a difference

There is more than one way to support Cornell. Your involvement:

  1. Helps Cornell honor its commitment to “… any person … any study.”
    A healthy mix of current-use gifts and endowed gifts helps Cornell fulfill its founding promise. Together, these gifts ensure that a Cornell education always remains affordable and accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
  2. Empowers teaching and research that makes the world a better place.
    Gifts of all kinds directly support faculty and students. Your gift helps them pursue unpredicted lines of thinking that do the greatest good for local and global communities.
  3. Connects you to a shared purpose that unites all Cornellians.
    Your involvement keeps you connected to a shared tradition of love and pride that yells Cornell for our time, and for all time.

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