Illustration by Katie McBride

The University, like any enterprise, needs buildings, people, and equipment to run. These all require one key resource: money. One critical source of Richmond’s funding is our endowment. It’s also one of the least understood.

So to explain the endowment, we’re turning to another common resource: water.

The qualities that make Richmond what it is — need-blind admission, 
generous financial aid, small classes, the Richmond Guarantee, and a wide range of student organizations, all in an inspiring environment equipped with electricity, Wi-Fi, and more — require a certain amount of water. Let’s say it’s 100 gallons.

Where do they come from?

If water is our resource, then think of the endowment as our aquifer. An aquifer has an abundant supply and a steady replenishment mechanism, but draining it too quickly will deplete it forever.

For the current fiscal year’s budget, our aquifer contributed 40 gallons to our target 100. This is a very strong contribution relative to other universities.

Why not, as some ask, draw even more from the aquifer? Doing so would be irresponsible over the long term. We have both a legal and a moral obligation to steward it for perpetuity.

The next 50 gallons come from bottles of water that students bring in tuition and fees. At universities with less productive aquifers than Richmond's, the water burden shifts more heavily to bottled water.

Seven of the remaining 10 gallons come from miscellaneous sources — licensing and research grants, for example. 

The rain and snow that supply the critically important final three gallons are philanthropy, including the annual fund. If the aquifer provides steady, long-term stability, then this fresh water provides immediate resources for the students here today. Both come from the generosity and commitment of generations of alumni investing in the next generations of Richmond students.

Our aquifer offsets far more gallons of bottled water than at most institutions, but its responsible contribution is maximized. More precipitation would further increase institutional access and affordability and provide even more flexibility for responding to emerging needs and opportunities.

That’s why, even with our large endowment, every single annual fund gift matters. When alumni give steadily, their generosity saturates everything.