Australians told: cut whingeing to lure benefactors

University donors would prefer to hear of successes, head of endowment fund says. John Gill reports.

February 7, 2008

The "whinge factor" is putting off potential benefactors and costing Australian universities money, a senior higher education adviser has warned.

Phil Clark, the chairman of Australia's Higher Education Endowment Fund advisory board, said universities should stop complaining and start talking about their successes in order to capitalise on philanthropic giving.

Speaking to The Australian newspaper before addressing the Australian Technology Network of Universities at its annual conference in Perth, he said: "Universities always seem to be complaining."

He added: "I think people are encouraged to give when they hear the success stories rather than hearing people complain."

The endowment fund was established last year by the Australian Government, which made an initial investment of A$5 billion (£2.3 billion) from its 2006-07 budget surplus.

Income from the fund is to be used to support capital works and investment projects, with the Government pledging to add to its initial stake from future national budget surpluses.

Mr Clark said he expected this year's proceeds from the fund - A$304 million - to be distributed among at least five projects across the country.

It is also hoped that the fund will encourage philanthropic investment in the sector, with the Australian public able to make tax-deductible donations.

Reasserting his belief that the money should be used as a springboard for a wider culture of fundraising, Mr Clark said the board would provide leadership and assistance to universities.

"Some universities' councils have philanthropy high on their agenda and some do not," he said. "And some vice-chancellors are told to stay right out of it."

Insisting that it was essential that universities told their success stories publicly, he said those engaging in their own fundraising would be particularly well placed to win grants.

"If we have seen that they have made an effort, it will (have an) impact on the way we view it," he told the newspaper.

Grant applications would also be viewed favourably where there was evidence that research projects were closely aligned with a university's strategic mission, he said, and where they were of benefit to the sector as a whole.

Institutions have also been encouraged to collaborate in applications for funding, both with each other and with industry and community groups.

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