Heads must show that charity begins at the top

US-born Rose Bruford boss tells Sarah Cunnane that v-cs should be obliged to hit fundraising goals

July 1, 2010

Vice-chancellors should be obliged to bring in philanthropic income equal to three times their salaries every year, the American head of a UK college has said.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, Michael Earley, principal of Rose Bruford College, said that the example set by vice-chancellors was crucial to establishing a "culture of giving".

"If the head doesn't set the example, I don't know who does," he said.

He added that the fundraising target of three times income should be written into vice-chancellors' job descriptions so that it becomes an "expectation" rather than a choice.

Professor Earley, who said he had exceeded his personal fundraising target for this year, suggested that the British higher education sector could learn from development offices in his native US. There, he said, people would "never dream" of joining a university's board of governors without donating money.

"You couldn't sit on the board of governors or board of trustees of, say, the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Metropolitan Opera without having to give, on average, six figures a year out of your own pocket," he said.

Rose Bruford's governors, however, may be relieved to hear that Professor Earley believes that the act of giving, rather than the amount, is the most important thing.

"I don't care whether a board member gives £50," he said. "But I do feel that they have got to set the pace for a culture of giving."

Although the UK sector was getting to grips with alumni development, he said, it still lagged behind international competitors, particularly the US. He suggested that this may be due to resistance at the top.

"I have met development directors who have found it very hard to get their vice-chancellors engaged with this - frustratingly so, and they have told me that," he said.

"It is key to have an executive at the very top who is open to fundraising, who isn't embarrassed to ask and who isn't afraid to make the necessary contacts."

Professor Earley praised Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, for "setting the mark" for the UK academy in fundraising terms.

Professor Thomas is the chair-elect of the board of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education Europe, and in 2008 donated £100,000 to Bristol.

Professor Earley also praised the government's matched-giving scheme, in which donations to universities are matched by public funding.

He said the initiative had forced universities to "up their game".

At a time of national austerity measures, he added, fundraising would become ever more important in helping the academy to fill the gap in public investment.

Professor Earley advised his fellow university and college leaders to embrace "friend-raising", focusing on building relationships with alumni in the hope that they would donate in the future.


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