Lead gift horses to water

July 15, 2010

In response to Michael Earley's argument about the role vice-chancellors can play in attracting philanthropic income ("Heads must show that charity begins at the top", 1 July), Mark Featherstone-Witty presents a somewhat jaundiced picture of fundraising in the UK academy (Letters, 8 July).

Featherstone-Witty repeats the mistaken assertion that tax reform is the key change needed to encourage more philanthropy in the UK. This is simply not the case: not only do we have in this country a more generous system of tax relief on income than in the US, but also, and perhaps more importantly, study after study has shown that tax relief is very low on the list of factors that motivate donors to give. It affects the amount given, not the propensity to do so.

While there is little that fundraisers or even vice-chancellors and principals can do about potential donors' capacity to give, there is much that can be done to affect their propensity to do so. A passionate vision, together with the willingness to articulate it, is a pretty good place to start. There is plenty of evidence to support this from institutions probably not on Featherstone-Witty's "prestigious" list that have attracted philanthropic gifts of £1 million or more, many from people who are not alumni.

One cannot blame our tax system for the lack of big gifts to British higher education. I would start by looking at the academy's vision and the way it is portrayed to donors. The responsibility for this lies with vice-chancellors, development staff and those who advise them.

Adrian P. Beney, Iain More Associates, Durham.

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