From September 2012 to September 2013, Texas A&M University raised more than $740 million, officials announced over the weekend. That eclipses the school's previous single-year record by more than $300 million.
Contributions to the 12th Man Foundation, which supports athletic programs, played a large part, accounting for nearly $273 million of the overall total. A&M athletics got extra attention in that period with A&M's first year in the Southeastern Conference and quarterback Johnny Manziel's Heisman-winning season for the football team.
But Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp told the Tribune that he believes there is more to it than athletics, though he acknowledged it helps. "Athletics," he said, "while it's certainly not the reason we're here, serves as a heck of a message to get the message out about what's happening at A&M."
Ed Davis, the president of the Texas A&M Foundation, which raises money to support the university, including nearly $351 million in the last year, said that some of the increases in gifts could be attributed to demographics.
The "magic age" for gift giving, he said, is 55 years and older. In the last decade, the total number of former A&M students in that range has more than doubled, from slightly more than 20,000 to nearly 50,000. Davis said it is expected to double again by 2020.
"The future is bright in terms of people who are going to be making gifts from wealth that they have accumulated," Davis said, adding that a thriving energy sector in the state also contributed to the number of individuals with money to donate.
The school also has a number of high-profile projects — pertaining to both athletics and research — under way, including a major renovation of Kyle Field and the establishment of a major federal biosecurity center.
The largest single gift of the year came from the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. One of the state's leading philanthropists, George Mitchell, died in July at the age of 94. This year alone, his foundation gave $20 million to support work in physics and astronomy at an institute named for the Mitchells.
"I think what's happening is Texas A&M has reached a tipping point," Sharp said. "Our folks, and frankly a whole lot of other folks have realized that we have become dominant in many ways in the state of Texas, not just football."
A&M's chief rival in the state, the University of Texas at Austin, also posted a record year in their capital campaign with a total of more than $453 million.
At UT-Austin, the seven-year capital campaign has been marked to a minor extent by disagreements over how certain gifts should be counted. The University of Texas System had forbidden the university from publicly counting more than $220 million worth of in-kind software donations toward its total. Such contributions are not permitted to be reported to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, an organization that sets standards for higher ed fundraising reporting.
Recently, the University of Texas System conducted a survey and found that four of its institutions — including UT-Austin — were counting membership dues to independent alumni organizations as part of their totals, which CASE also does not allow. Whether those amounts will have to be removed from the institutions' public pronouncements remains to be seen.
"We have been watching that dispute with some interest, and frankly a bit of curiosity," Davis said. "You know, CASE is not the law. It is an organization made up of professionals that determined guidelines."
He said A&M abides by parameters set by CASE and the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning, which has established guidelines for estate gifts. A&M received about $205 million in estate gift commitments in the last year. He also noted that the school's former students association is gift-based, not dues-based.
Still, Davis said, "We're puzzled a little bit by all the noise going on at UT."