Don’t give up on philanthropy, Young Universities Summit told

Philanthropic donations to universities seen in the US can be replicated in Europe and the Middle East, argues former University of Chicago president Hugo Sonnenschein

April 8, 2016
Hugo Sonnenschein, University of Chicago
Hugo Sonnenschein, president emeritus of the University of Chicago

Universities should not write off the possibility of raising major sums from their alumni just because their country does not have a culture of philanthropic giving to higher education, the Times Higher Education Young Universities Summit has been told.

Hugo Sonnenschein, president emeritus of the University of Chicago, told the event at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona on 7 April that it was possible to find ways to persuade rich graduates to give to their alma mater, even in countries in the Middle East and Europe where this concept is little known.

Several delegates at the third annual summit, which took place from 5 to 7 April, said many graduates do not consider donating to their old university as it is simply assumed that higher education is run on public funds.

Professor Sonnenschein, who helped to increase Chicago’s annual philanthropic income from $80 million (£56.8 million) to $240 million during his seven-year term as president between 1993 and 2000, said he believed large donations could be found if potential donors are targeted in the right way.

Many of Chicago’s largest donations have been the result of connecting an appeal for funds with an emotion felt by a wealthy donor, such as the desire by a self-made multi-millionaire businessman to help poorer students after having struggled financially himself as a child.

“You have to find the right people, find that emotion,” said Professor Sonnenschein, who added that Chicago’s charitable income now topped $650 million a year.

“I am suspicious about enormously wealthy areas of the world where there is not a culture of philanthropy,” he added, implying this habit could be instilled over time.

However, Melina Mercier, managing director of the Pierre and Marie Curie University Foundation, said it has been difficult to overcome the French mindset regarding higher education funding.

“The French see universities as a public service so do not see why you need to give money,” said Dr Mercier. “People in universities also felt you just need to set up a foundation and people will write cheques,” she added, saying the €15 million (£12 million) raised so far by her foundation had taken some time to acquire.

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