Associate Cliff Tapp reflects on health, research, international fundraising

The majority of Graham-Pelton Associate Cliff Tapp’s experience is in leading university fundraising and campaigns and developing strategy with academic and clinical leaders, major and principal gift solicitations and stewardship, and international fundraising in the Middle East, South East Asia, and the United States. Based in the United Kingdom, Cliff has shown a great aptitude throughout his career for science communication and working with academics to successfully diversify university fundraising to attract significant corporate, non-alumni, and trust and foundation support and build new fundraising markets and projects from scratch.

In addition to his work as Associate with Graham-Pelton, Cliff has been the Executive Development Manager – Principal Gifts at the University of Sussex since 2015, where his work has helped bring in Sussex’s biggest gift to date, enabling research and new academic positions in mental health research and the university’s first corporate seven-figure gift to support science and technology policy research. He continues his work at Sussex alongside his role with Graham-Pelton.

Of Cliff, Graham-Pelton Managing Director Andy Wood says, “Cliff’s depth of experience and expertise will be of enormous value to our clients. Facilitating effective collaboration between donors, leaders and academics to create principal gift opportunities is a skill at a premium, and we look forward to Cliff adding to Graham-Pelton’s global experience in this area.”

Cliff recently shared his thoughts on his unique background, his interest in both the sciences and education, and the strategies he has deployed as a noted fundraiser in the field.

With a background in neuroscience and a career in development, you come uniquely positioned to build relationships among those with an interest in science and research. What has surprised you the most about those donors attracted to these areas?

Although my career has merged two worlds I care deeply about – philanthropy and scientific research – a continuing thread I’ve identified among donors is that they’re not necessarily willing to fund an issue simply for the sake of science. That is, apart from a few cases often involving big global challenges, they don’t fund “science for science’s sake.” Rather, as in many other sectors, donors follow personal motivations. In most cases, a family member has been affected by a particular issue, or there is a family history of a certain disease, such as Alzheimer’s, where future suffering could be alleviated by finding a cure or tackling elements of the disease.

Although these supporters are interested in learning about the research, meeting the clinicians, and the ways their gifts will make a difference, their motivations themselves are a great deal less lofty. For example, I worked with the late John Paul Getty III and his family to endow a Chair of Epilepsy at King’s College London. His philanthropy was motivated by his own experiences of the condition and the care he received. There is nearly always a personal interest attached.

You mention that donors benefit from meeting the practitioners within the field. How do you facilitate this?

This is a commonality throughout every institution for which I have fundraised. Donor experiences are made that much richer and fulfilling when the appropriate deans, clinicians, or researchers are brought in at the right time.

What that requires, however, is time cultivating those academics and clinicians as well – in a similar way in which you might engage a donor. You must become a partner in their work, understanding the way they best build relationships based on their personality. Much of my work with academics involves a great deal of coaching throughout the donor cultivation and stewardship process, from aiding in the blue-sky-thinking process to build the right kind of enthusiasm, to strategizing behind the scenes and conducting visits. Similarly, asking clinicians to broker patient relationships is both delicate and potentially rewarding for all involved. I’ve worked in some areas, particularly chronic health conditions, where the practitioner has a very long and meaningful relationship with their patient. Adding the dimension of philanthropy and engagement in research related to a clinical journey can add a great deal of richness and joy to what would otherwise normally be a difficult and challenging aspect of life.

Building a bridge between fundraising and science may seem like closing the gap between two worlds. But you’ve done that before, haven’t you, as Principal Gifts Officer for the Middle East while at the University of Oxford?  

You could say that! While at Oxford, I helped broker some very exciting cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional relationships between Oxford divisions and Colleges to accomplish fundraising goals in the Middle East. In my visits abroad and work with donors, I represented various constituent parts of the University in sum. Acting as a single representative went some way to rise above competition and draw focus to collaboration opportunities and the big picture of what was possible by working with Oxford – the true concept of opening doors and breaking down silos. It was very rewarding to work on one very large project in particular that crossed boundaries and encouraged working across divisions. I really enjoyed bringing together many different professionals and fields of endeavour into one mutually beneficial conversation. The supporters were very engaged by this too, and I know this conversation and partnership has continued to progress since I moved on to Sussex and more recently to Graham-Pelton.

What do you see as crucial growth opportunities within fundraising?

With Brexit and the uncertainty surrounding Horizon 2020, the European Union’s current flagship program for science and innovation, it is common knowledge that we are facing a difficult time in the UK when it comes to funding for research, despite recent current cash injections by the UK Government into research.

What this means is we must diversify the funding mix at universities and establish confidence in donors to commit to funding long-term projects. Many UK Research Council grants run on three-year cycles, which results in a lot of time being spent on applying for grants rather than doing research. Another reality is that early stage research in particular – which is also not typically funded from traditional sources – needs the trust of the funder for a longer period, perhaps 10 years in some areas to accomplish its goals in a meaningful and translational way.

Another way to diversify funding is to work with corporations outside of the charity sector. There is a growing focus on corporate relationship management, not simply working in a very discrete, short-term and transactional manner as is all too often the case. I’m also excited about venture philanthropy. Developing quasi-commercial, quasi-philanthropic relationships with companies to fund research is a compelling and paradigm-shifting idea particularly in the UK.

Put simply, we’re at an exciting place where there is real potential to help academics who have big ideas find big solutions for big problems affecting all of us. I greatly enjoy helping them think blue sky but in a way that is realistic and achievable.

I feel very lucky to have found this career path. Most gratifying is that this work, thanks to my background in science, allows me to think in a way that others may not.  I can both geek out about complex research AND the funding of it.

Contact Cliff directly via email or by calling +44 (0)207 060 2622.

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