New Survey: Overwhelming Majority of Major College Donors Oppose Divestment

New Survey: Overwhelming Majority of Major College Donors Oppose Divestment

IPAA-commissioned survey quantifies real-world opinions of university donors on issue of divestment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As divestment activists try their best to generate attention for their campaign around the U.N. climate conference in Paris this month, a new survey released this week of large financial donors to colleges and universities in the United States suggests these individuals both widely oppose fossil-fuel divestment, and would think twice about investing their own money in a school once informed that it has chosen to go down that path.

The first-of-its-kind survey, commissioned by the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and conducted by FTI Consulting, Inc., captured the views of 275 individual, major college donors, an unprecedented sample size for this issue. Among those surveyed, a full 80 percent said they would expect the endowments of schools that divested to take a significant financial hit, with 79 percent saying separately that they wouldn’t expect divestment to have any “tangible impact” on the environment or climate change.

“Large donors give money to schools for a number of different reasons, but having those schools waste that money on symbolic campaigns that hurt returns without actually achieving anything aren’t among them,” said Jeff Eshelman, senior vice president for operations and public affairs at IPAA. “But the most important finding here is that two-thirds of donors surveyed said they’d consider not investing in a school if it chose to divest. That’s a real group, and one to which school administrators and trustees should consider listening to more as part of the review process.”

Notably, over three-quarters of respondents agreed that endowment managers should be using donors’ money to maximize the value of the endowment, while 66 percent indicated they would be less likely to invest their money in a college or university that had decided to divest itself of oil and gas securities. The survey found this opinion was consistent across party lines, as 82 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents, and 70 of Democrats agree that endowments should be entirely focused on increasing financial returns and supporting campus programs. There is also widespread agreement divestment would hurt the college endowment, with 80 percent believing that their alma mater divesting of oil and gas companies would decrease the value of the endowment. This is consistent across party lines with 83 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Independents, and 79 percent of Democrats in agreement.

Donors surveyed are defined as individuals who donated $5,000 or more to U.S. colleges in the past five years. More than half of respondents donated $10,000 or more over the past five years, while three in 10 donated $20,000 or more. Read a complete list of questions included on the survey, along with full answers provided and percentage-breakdowns attached to each response on www.DivestmentFacts.com.

Key Findings from the Survey

  • Overall Opposition: When first asked if they support or oppose divestment, donors emphatically say that they support schools’ efforts to push back against divestment proponents. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) support colleges’ decision to reject divestment, while only 12 percent oppose. Nearly four-in-ten (39 percent) strongly support colleges’ decision to reject divestment.
  • Donors Agree with University Statements that Oppose Divestment: Donors are clearly influenced by comments recently made by several prestigious schools that have rejected divestment. Nearly eight-in-ten (79 percent) donors said they were more likely to support colleges’ decision to reject divestment after learning that Harvard president Drew Faust spoke out against it. 81 percent stated they were more likely to support colleges’ decision to reject divestment after reading the anti-divestment comments from MIT president Rafael Reif from October 2015.
  • Divestment Doesn’t Impact Targeted Companies: There is widespread agreement among donors that fossil fuel divestment would have little to no impact on the environment or on the bottom line of the targeted companies, while decreasing the value of colleges’ endowments. 80 percent believe that their alma mater divesting of oil and gas companies would decrease the value of the endowment. This is consistent across party lines: 83 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Independents, and 79 percent of Democrats agree.
  • Divestment Doesn’t Help the Environment: Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) say divestment would decrease the value of their alma mater’s endowment while having no tangible impact on the environment or energy-related companies.
  • Endowments are For Students, Not Politics: Donors are in broad agreement regarding the overriding purpose of an endowment: 76 percent believe colleges should only use their donated money in a way that increases financial returns, helps finance worthwhile programs on campus, and/or supports student aid. This finding was consistent across party lines, as 82 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Independents, and 70 of Democrats agree that endowments should be entirely focused on increasing financial returns and supporting campus programs.
  • Divestment May Impact Financial Giving: Two-thirds (66 percent) of donors indicated that they would be less likely to donate to their college if they found out it divested its endowment of oil and gas companies. Nearly half (49 percent) believe it’s hypocritical for colleges to divest of oil and gas companies while they continue to be major consumers of oil and natural gas.

About the Independent Petroleum Association of America:
The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) is the leading, national upstream trade association representing oil and natural gas producers that drill 95 percent of the nation’s oil and natural gas wells. These companies account for 54 percent of America’s oil production, 85 percent of its natural gas production, and support over 2.1 million American jobs. IPAA is also proud to serve as a bridge that connects our members to the capital markets and investment communities through timely events and research, including successful Oil & Gas Investment Symposium events, NAPE summits and expos, and important reports on trends and movements in the financial sector.

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Jeff Eshelman

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