Cash flows when academic passion is shared, says philanthropy tsar

Billion-dollar fundraiser counters the 'myth' that Britain lacks a tradition of giving. John Gill reports

May 29, 2008

Universities in the UK are on the brink of a "golden age of philanthropy" akin to that enjoyed by US institutions, a leading higher education fundraiser has said.

Jon Dellandrea, who has extensive experience raising money for universities on both sides of the Atlantic, believes the sector is making strides in "rebuilding the tradition of philanthropy in this country".

As vice-president of the University of Toronto, he oversaw Canada's most successful university fundraising effort, more than doubling targets to raise a total of C$1 billion (£512 million). He joined the University of Oxford in 2005 as pro vice-chancellor (development and external affairs), where his responsibilities include alumni relations.

Speaking ahead of this week's Times Higher Education conference on fundraising, at which he is a keynote speaker, he said he wanted to "debunk the myth" that Britain lacks the tradition of philanthropy enjoyed by universities in the US.

"There is this view that there are huge cultural differences and that there just is not the tradition of philanthropy in the UK that there is in the US," he said.

"That is absolutely, totally not true. Before Harvard, that bastion of raising money, even existed there had been hundreds of years of philanthropy in this country.

"Everything screeched to a halt post-Second World War, maybe earlier, when the welfare state meant that university was free, healthcare was free, taxation was high, and the attitude was 'I gave at the office, thank you very much'."

Universities, he said, needed a "clear-eyed strategy" to rekindle the culture of giving, which should be linked firmly to the academic activity of the institution.

"Fundraisers don't have some white magic to get rich people to part with their money. It is about the core ambition of the academic community," Dr Dellandrea said.

"I spent 12 years as vice-president of the University of Toronto, and we ran an annual event for new academic administrators when I told them we would never ask them to ask for money.

"What we did ask them to do was to speak with passion and commitment about what they were trying to achieve academically. Do that, and money follows quite easily."

Describing private support as "the third leg of the stool", Dr Dellandrea said student fees and government grants alone would not be enough to fund what leading institutions are trying to do, but he insisted that there were reasons for optimism at institutions across the sector. "We're seeing here at Oxford, and I know this is being replicated at many other institutions, the rebuilding of a tradition of philanthropy in this country," he said.

Liesl Elder, director of development and communications at Durham University, said: "If you observe the UK response to various needs around the world, you see that they are very generous people. This is about educating people that higher education is a charity and is a cause that is very worthy of support. That hasn't been done in this country until now."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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