The higher education sector urgently needs to attract more fundraisers or it risks promoting people beyond their experience, according to one of the leaders of a major review into how universities can attract more staff into philanthropy work.
Dame Shirley Pearce, the former vice-chancellor of Loughborough University, also warned that demand for fundraisers still outstripped supply, meaning that universities with smaller philanthropy operations would have their best staff poached by more seasoned institutions.
The report warns that universities need to at least double their number of fundraisers by 2022 if they are to hit a target of raising £2 billion a year, set down in a review of philanthropy commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England two years ago.
An emerging profession: the higher education philanthropy workforce, released on 1 May, says that the sector is “on track” to reach this financial target.
But it notes that for “some” universities “fundraising returns remain low and income marginal”, while half the workforce is based in just 10 per cent of institutions.
Dame Shirley told Times Higher Education that unless the pool of fundraisers is increased, universities with less established operations would find it difficult to grow their income.
“If you’ve got a clearly successful university trajectory for fundraising, that’s an attractive place to go,” she said.
But it is much more difficult to attract people to an institution with a less successful track record, and so universities end up having to pay “over the odds” for fundraisers or “people end up being over-promoted” she said.
The report notes that a “shortage of strong candidates” had led to “cases of evident over-promotion”.
Thirty per cent of fundraising office leader positions are currently lying vacant, the report adds. Dame Shirley said that most people in university fundraising could recount a story of someone being promoted beyond their experience.
Joanna Motion, a partner at the fundraising consultancy More Partnership and a member of the review group, said that while the “pioneering generation” of university fundraisers in the 1990s “had the dubious honour of never working for someone who knew more than they did” philanthropy offices had now “professionalised dramatically”.
“Most universities (but not all) are shrewder now about what a decent development office looks like,” she said.
But when asked whether the supply of fundraisers was better now than in 2012, Dame Shirley said: “I fear that the situation is not very different. We still have under-supply and over-demand.”
To address this, the report recommends that universities more vocally promote fundraising as a career to graduates.
Some senior fundraisers feel like “second-class citizens” in their university, unable to progress any higher in the institution, it says, and recommends that this culture should change to stop them leaving.
The latest data on university fundraising, released last year, showed an increase in income from philanthropy in 2011-12.
But it also showed widening income inequality, as two-thirds of institutions saw their incomes fall, partly owing to the end of a matched funding scheme for donations, while 10 Russell Group institutions raised half a billion pounds between them.
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