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Report shows Americans donate billions to universities, but schools still don’t uphold basic rights. It’s time to change that.

Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/

Every year, The Giving Institute publishes a comprehensive report on the philanthropic landscape in the United States. Released last month, Giving USA 2018 reported that for the first time in history, Americans gave away over $410 billion in charitable donations in 2017.

While this is fantastic news, a deeper dive into the data should give FIRE supporters something to think about:

The top beneficiaries of high-net-worth individuals’ gifts of $1 million or more were colleges and universities, which received $6.6 billion in support.

Colleges and universities were also the top beneficiaries of bequests of $1 million or more, receiving $1.1 billion in these “legacy” gifts.

The charitable support colleges and universities received far outranked that of healthcare; the arts, culture, and humanities; human services; public-societal benefit; and, in the case of the two donor groups mentioned above, even religious causes.

This high level of support is understandable given that many alumni have strong connections to their alma maters, nostalgia for the transformative years spent there, and a desire to invest in the development of our future leaders.

But, as you know, today’s colleges and universities are very far removed from the marketplace of ideas they used to be. Instead of being bastions of free speech and promoting critical thinking, some schools choose to spend their time, energy, and money pioneering new ways to chill expression. And with billion-dollar endowments to rest upon, what’s to stop them?

FIRE has been leading the fight for campus reform for the past 20 years, and through a combination of education, litigation, defense, policy, and public awareness work, our efforts have benefited over seven million students. Our name carries far more weight with administrators than it did even just five years ago, and we brought the fight for campus rights into the mainstream.

But if we want to achieve real reform on campus, we must begin impacting institutions’ bottom lines.

You don’t have to give a million-dollar gift to make a difference — you just have to take a stand. There are many ways you can change what’s happening at the schools you care about.

For starters, you can give a gift to FIRE in lieu of a gift to a college. We will reach out to the leadership of the school and offer to work with them to get their policies and practices in line with the First Amendment. Just let us know in the comment box of your online gift that your gift is in lieu of a gift to a university, and we’ll notify the leadership of that institution that until they fully protect individual rights on campus, they will no longer earn your charitable support. We will also send the school you designate a printout of its Spotlight database entry, a copy of FIRE’s Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies booklet, and our latest Spotlight on Speech Codes report.

Make your pledge or bequest to a school come with a free speech stipulation. FIRE’s Free Expression Campaign is focused on encouraging schools to adopt the free speech statement produced by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago. You can encourage the school you care about to adopt this policy statement before receiving any more of your charitable support.

Ensure free speech and due process rights are protected on campus for generations to come with a planned gift to FIRE. The evolving challenges to freedom in the academy have made it clear that there will always be a need for FIRE on America’s campuses. We must always be the watchdog holding schools accountable, and therefore we are in it for the long haul. No matter the size of your estate, you can make a valuable contribution to the future of free speech through a planned gift to FIRE. (Already made a planned gift to FIRE? Please let us know!)

If you’d like to discuss any the giving options mentioned here, please contact FIRE’s development office at We’d love to talk with you! You can also make a 100% tax-deductible donation to FIRE today at

Thank you in advance for taking a stand for student and faculty rights on campus.

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