Don’t Stop Investing in Fundraising!

October 19, 2015

UK universities are facing an unpredictable future financially with rumours of significant budget cuts in the next Comprehensive Spending Review, increased competition for home students, visa issues for overseas students and diminishing capital grants. In the midst of all this, where should investment in philanthropic fundraising sit? I would argue that it should remain a priority because it is one income stream universities can almost guarantee to grow.

The last Ross-CASE survey for 2013-14 showed an increase in philanthropic income to the sector to £643 million, an increase of commitments to nearly £800 million and donor numbers exceeding 250,000. Sixteen universities secured more than £10 million, up from 9 universities a year ago. I have no doubt this will continue to increase, and it won’t be long before funds secured exceed £1 billion in a year. £1 billion is approximately the surplus for the whole sector on an income of just over £30 billion. This is very valuable income.

Since my report in 2004, a reasonable number of universities have strategically embraced philanthropic fundraising, but there are still many universities that remain equivocal about philanthropic fundraising and uncertain that the investment will pay off. The evidence in both the UK and the USA is that philanthropic fundraising will pay off and that the trick is patience and a good fundraising team. There are some well known tools of the trade, but my experience is that these tools need to be tailored to an individual institution’s history and needs.

Successful fundraising is very much geared to the commitment and enthusiasm of the institutional leader. Is enough emphasis being placed on this role during the recruitment processes for Vice-Chancellors? Presumably it is in some institutions but not in others. Successful fundraising also needs the full support of the executive team and the governing body.  The recently published Etherington report on charity governance means governing bodies will have to have even more scrutiny of their fundraising, but that will also offer the opportunity to place the activity more centrally in the university strategy.

So my conclusion is that investment should continue in philanthropic fundraising even if the finances get squeezed, because it will deliver increased income. It also has the benefit of engaging more supporters and ensuring senior leaders can clearly articulate the strategy of the institution. One thing is for certain. You can’t fundraise if you can’t tell the story of the future journey of your university.

– Sir Eric Thomas, Senior Counsel

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