Donations to universities rise but future pledges fall

Small increase in fundraising staff prompts questions over sector’s ability to meet £2 billion target by 2022

May 15, 2014

The amount of money pledged to UK universities by donors last year fell by more than 10 per cent and there was only a slight increase in the number of fundraising staff, according to a new survey.

The news raises questions about the sector’s aim to bring in £2 billion a year by 2022.

But although pledges for the future dropped, the actual amount of cash received from philanthropy in 2012-13 was £660 million, an increase of almost a quarter on the previous year.

Kate Hunter, executive director of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in Europe – which produced the survey alongside the Ross Group of development directors – said that the results were “positive” overall but admitted that there would be “ebbs and flows” in the amounts pledged each year.

This was because just a few very large gifts could make a big difference to the overall total.

The number of donors to UK universities increased by 6.7 per cent to nearly 223,000, an all-time high.

Yet just 44 extra staff joined the fundraising workforce, which now numbers almost 1,200. This increase in staff is far below the trajectory mapped out in a report on university fundraising staff – commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, released two weeks ago – which says the sector needs to at least double its fundraising workforce over the next eight years if it is to meet a target of £2 billion a year.

Joanna Motion, a partner at the fundraising consultants More Partnership, said that the lack of extra staff was a “warning sign” for the sector. The small pool of fundraisers is “a brake on our ability to do things well”, she said.

Giving to Excellence: Generating Philanthropic Support for UK Higher Education 2012-13, released on 15 May, also reports that the gap in fundraising success between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and other institutions has widened.

Oxbridge accounted for 49 per cent of the new donations pledged in 2012-13, up three percentage points from the previous two years.

Ms Hunter pointed to the success of the Oxford Thinking fundraising campaign, which passed its target of £1.25 billion in March 2012 and has now raised its aim to £3 billion, making it the biggest university fundraising campaign in Europe.

In contrast, the amount of money pledged to the research-intensive Russell Group institutions, excluding Oxbridge, dropped by nearly a third in 2012-13 to less than two-thirds of that secured by Oxbridge.

When compared with universities that are often relatively new to fundraising, the gap becomes even wider, with Oxbridge securing around 100 times as much in new donations as the 15 Million+ institutions included in the survey. Five institutions with the weakest fundraising operations spend an average of nearly £17 on fundraising for every pound they bring in, but Oxbridge spends just 7p, the report says.

The survey is the first of its kind conducted for the period following the introduction of higher undergraduate tuition fees. This change has actually made asking for money easier, Ms Hunter said, because “some donors feel particularly concerned that fees [don’t become] a barrier to aspiration”.

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