'Events have to be tailor-made: young trendies are not 85-year-old alumni'

September 2, 2005

Unconventional fundraisers have led to a leadership award for Eric Thomas, Bristol's vice-chancellor

Benefactors move to the beat while alumni swap memories of university days over vodka and Red Bull. It may not be the archetypal image of a fundraiser, but Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of Bristol University, believes that his unconventional approach is the main reason he has landed a top leadership award.

Professor Thomas won the Chief Executive Leadership in Europe award presented this week by the Council of Advancement and Support of Education.

"Events have to be tailor-made," Professor Thomas explained. "Events targeted at the 25 to 35 age group are a completely different kettle of fish to those aimed at 65 to 85-year-olds."

Pub nights in London for young trendies and weekends in Bristol for the more mature alumni are just some of the vice-chancellor's ideas for expanding donations, which he began to develop as chairman of the Government's Task Force on Voluntary Giving to Universities in 2003.

Trips made with the task force to several North American universities where managers spent up to a quarter of their time securing donations, showed Professor Thomas that the more that leaders are committed to philanthropic funding, the more opportunities universities can create.

"Being prepared to talk directly to major donors is as vital as being able to articulate the vision and future of the organisation," Professor Thomas said, claiming returns on philanthropic investments could run to six or ten times the original sum.

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