Americans are 'taking over'

A lack of British fundraising specialists has led to an influx from the US, reports John Gill

September 11, 2008


There are too many Americans in UK university fundraising and development offices, an expert has warned.

Joel Munson, director of development and alumni relations at the University of Southampton, said a dearth of specialists from within the UK was a major challenge for the field, which is seen as increasingly important to institutions' financial health.

Mr Munson, who is American, has 20 years' experience in the field, most recently as associate vice-president for development at the University of Oregon. He said the UK sector was developing its own "cultural model" for development activity, with important differences from the US.

He said: "There's such a shallow pool of qualified development people that we are all going after the same pool or we're trying to bring people in from the US. That's fine, but things are different over here; it is a mix of the best practice in the US and realities of the UK. You have to be careful, you can't assume that just because someone comes from the States and has raised 'x' amount of money over the years and had these fancy titles at great universities they are necessarily going to be a match here.

"The American culture is a lot more assertive in a lot of ways, and I'm hoping to do some comparative studies on how people in this country perceive major gift solicitation strategies as opposed to in America, and whether they see them as more aggressive, say, than Americans would.

"It doesn't mean at all that people in the UK are less philanthropic - there's no evidence of that. They are extremely philanthropic, but we have to work out how we negotiate that in order to secure major gift fundraising."

Mr Munson was speaking to Times Higher Education after a recent conference at which he analysed the "blurring lines" between development work, research funding and other university income streams. At Southampton, he said, development officers are now integrated with researchers, who are becoming increasingly reliant on their professional support to secure funding, just as at the University of Oxford "research facilitators" have doubled the number of grant applications in one academic division.

Mr Munson said: "Because development programmes are so new here, academics are only just starting to realise there's this resource available to them. To bridge that gap, we're putting development officers in the faculties and schools, so they can go native and get to know the academics and gain their trust."

While offering a broadly positive assessment of development activity in the UK, he suggested that some institutions were not doing enough to secure their future.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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