Endowments support a university now and forevermore

What makes a great university?  Certainly the fundamentals include creative and bright students, engaging faculty, a beautiful campus, a culture of open inquiry, and a commitment to public service.  It also requires dedicated alumni, parents, and friends who believe in the institution and want to be a part of its future. 

Many individuals and families provide for the future of universities by establishing endowment funds.  Donors start these funds with charitable gifts to the university; the university separates those gifts into a separate account (or “fund”), invests the gifts in perpetuity, and spends a small portion each year from now through forever, in whatever way the donor has instructed.

Duke University has more than 4,400 separate endowment funds.  Together the value of these funds was roughly $7.3 billion as of July 1, 2015.  (You’ll often hear folks refer to “Duke’s endowment,” a term which usually refers to these funds.

Each year, money made available through these funds provides for everything you can think of when you hear the word “Duke,” including:

Financial aid scholarships

Many donors who establish an endowment fund at Duke direct it toward need-based financial aid. Such “scholarship endowments” will support at least one student every year in the donor’s name or the name of the donor’s family.  Each October, scholarship donors are invited to campus for a dinner to meet current scholarship recipients and learn more about what these great students are doing at Duke.  The profound impact of these endowments is wonderfully captured in this short video.

Endowed professorships

Other donors establish endowment funds to hire and retain stellar faculty, or to support a faculty position.  These “named chairs” are very highly sought after by academicians and are conferred on the most accomplished or promising members of the faculty. 

Significant programs and places

Still other donors direct their endowments to support research in a specific field or to find cures for diseases.  These funds are transformed to address the world’s most pressing problems.  Donors also choose to provide operating support to a special place on campus, such as the Sarah P. Duke Gardens or the Nasher Museum of Art. 

Lifetime of impact

Many of our alumni and friends establish endowment funds during their lifetime so they can see the impact of their philanthropy, knowing that the fund itself will last far into the future.  Others include a gift in their estate plan that will establish the endowment fund after they pass away, leaving a perpetual legacy in their name or the name of their family.  Many of our supporters do both – establish an endowment fund during their lifetime and then augment it with an estate gift later.

If you’d like to learn more about establishing an endowment fund at Duke, please give us a call. You can also learn more by visiting our online FAQ about endowment giving.

TAGS: endowment giving

About the author

Gift Planning


Duke University’s Office of Gift Planning specializes in charitable gift planning for estates, charitable trusts and annuities, and other complex current and future gift plans.

For more information, please contact the Duke University Office of Gift Planning at 919-681-0464 or giftplanning@duke.edu.