Ross-CASE Report 2019

The headline is clear: giving is over the £1 billion threshold again, and it has been above or near this mark for the last few years. It is safe to say this is the new normal for Higher Education.

Fundraising levels have increased from £350 million secured by 75 Universities in 2004-2005 to £1.08 billion in new funds secured by 100 Universities in 2017-2018. This is impressive, and we can congratulate our colleagues for all their hard work. It is, however, important to take a deeper look at some of the trends that contribute to this rise and consider what might help the sector take the next big step.


Alumni Relations

Are institutions making a strong enough case to their largest stakeholders?

It is hard not to be somewhat disappointed that the number of alumni donors decreased by 2% in 2016-2017, although total donors increased by 2%. We did see an increase of 6% from alumni donors in 2015-2016, but the aspect worth noting is the 1.3% participation rate in 2016-2017 from alumni, which has been fairly static for the last few years.

With alumni relations spending, the number of contactable alumni, and the number of individual donors on the rise, what is stopping institutions from making a more persuasive case to their largest constituency group?

We often talk about cultivating a culture of philanthropy, and the UK has come a long way, but we might need to collectively consider the message and ask what will persuade our lifelong constituents to financially support the projects we believe are most important for our institutions’ futures.



An outsized impact

Organisations account for just 12% of donors but make up 60% of new pledges and 61% of cash income in 2017-2018. Professionals in the sector will know and not be surprised that this year’s survey continues to highlight the critical role that organisations play for philanthropy in Higher Education.

Just under half the number (48%) of participating institutions secured their largest new gift/pledge from a trust or foundation. Developing and Emerging offices secured two-thirds of new funds from organisations, of which companies were 20% of new gifts/pledges for Developing offices and 30% of new gifts/pledges for Emerging offices. Last year, we highlighted how corporate giving was on the rise, and it remains an area for this group of offices to consider how to engage and steward successfully.


Fall in Fundraising Investment

Consistency is key for maintaining a strong return on investment

The pressure continues to mount on the leadership of Universities to make difficult decisions on where they believe investment will best serve their institutions. A 4% decrease in funding for fundraising might give us pause to wonder why investment is being pulled from an area we know will ultimately return huge dividends if delivered strategically and effectively.

As a sector, we need to ensure leadership is aware that consistency over time is vital to reap the benefits of efforts, especially for the Emerging and Developing offices. At the same time, as fundraising professionals, we need to be honest and unyielding about focusing our efforts on the areas that will bear fruit.


Declining Response

The number of institutions participating continues to decline

The value of the Ross-CASE Survey providing the sector three-year comparisons as well as the longitudinal insights of being carried out for so long is incredible.  We had 100 institutions take part in this year’s survey (three of which were from Ireland). This is certainly a strong response rate from the sector, but it does make us wonder what has happened to those 25% of institutions that contributed to a response rate of 135 in 2011-2012.

Have several offices that were once fragile now been shut down? Are some institutions unable to take part due to resources, or do a few feel their time is better spent on other activities? It is hard to tell what this trend tells us. Like most things, it ends up being a mix of reasons, but it is something we should keep our eye on. If offices are disappearing, we should certainly investigate to understand why, and other fragile offices can ensure they move their way up the continuum. We can also ensure to remind colleagues of the value that benchmarking surveys bring to our institutions as well as the sector as a whole.



Are we investing in legacy giving properly?

We see that there is a clear correlation between the length of time that a University has been actively fundraising and the numbers and sizes of legacies that it receives. Developing Universities had almost three times the mean cash legacy income than their Emerging counterparts.

Despite making up almost 12% of cash income to Universities, we are still not investing in our legacy programmes sufficiently. It is tough to ask for investment in a fundraising stream that can take decades to materialise. This short-sighted thinking is at odds with the very thing that makes Universities such an appealing proposition to legacy donors – their longevity.

What Our Experts Are Saying

Elizabeth Ziegler
President & CEO

“The newest Ross-CASE Report is a clarion call. It calls for investment in advancement operations and professionals and offers a subtle warning of what could happen (or, perhaps worse, what could not happen) if that investment is not met.

We celebrate when our client institutions pride themselves on effectiveness over efficiency: a strategy focused on maximizing growth in giving rather than minimizing costs. An increase in investment will encourage staff tenure, long-term and nuanced donor initiatives, and above all, the trust and strategic vision that inspires those major gifts.”

“Whilst breaking the £1bn barrier a second time should be a rightful cause for celebration, it is imperative to look behind the big number at data which, arguably, matters more to the sector when a small number of universities hugely influence the total figure.

The continued decline in participating institutions is a major concern, particularly when the green shoots in Developing and Emerging clusters can be seen, something we have witnessed first-hand with clients.”

Andy Wood
Managing Director

Graham-Pelton’s nuanced and expert analysis

three critical themes fundraisers should understand

a decade of metrics: what have we learned?

At Graham-Pelton, we believe in responsible consulting and as part of that, we counsel our clients that benchmarking is only one tool among many that can influence a step-change in fundraising results.

alumni giving is flat: what is the path forward?

Static alumni giving rates, combined with increased pressure on Universities to conserve resources, means that institutions will need to explore new models of fundraising.

big ideas yield big gifts: think big, ask bigger

As important as it is to have a broad base of support, major gifts offer the most return on investment. Whereas resources spent on donor acquisition through mail or events are often loss leaders, the ROI in major gift prospects can be 10 to 1 or more.

Looking to bring confidence and clarity to your fundraising strategy?

We can help.