Development directors from a number of Russell Group universities are drawing up guidelines on how to present fundraising figures.
Mike Smithson, director of the development office at Oxford University, said: "There is an enormous temptation to massage the figures.
"A vice-chancellor's machismo is measured by the scale of the university's fundraising campaign.
"Development directors are now trying to develop standard rules so that we can compare like with like."
However, some proposals have already sparked controversy. Questions have been raised in particular about the plans to exclude all legacy pledges that can be revoked before the testator's death.
Simon Pennington, head of the development office at University College, London, said: "We only include legacy pledges once the person has died and we have the money. The pledges can easily be revoked or lost if shares fall."
However, the development director at Bristol University, Alistair Lockhart, said: "We include legacy pledges where we are 99 per cent certain that they will not be revoked.
"A small group of directors is looking in more detail at what pledges could be included."
Some directors wanted to exclude money for research from charitable foundations such as the Wellcome Trust from their fundraising figures.
"We receive so much money from Wellcome that if we were to include it, it would dwarf other campaigns," Mr Smithson said.
He said that monies should be included only when they were essentially philanthropic gifts, with the donor not getting anything - apart from recognition - in return.
"It is a difficult area to define. At the moment, returns are made to the funding council under a range of headings," he added.
Mr Lockhart said: "We have included money from the Leverhulme Trust, for example, in our fundraising totals. This is because the money has been raised through the development office because it is for capital funding and is not a contractual arrangement for a specific piece of research."
Mr Pennington added: "In the United States there are guidelines, but we cannot use these as a basis as the tax system is so different.
"Our guidelines will only be effective if they have the support of vice-chancellors."