Oxbridge wins donation race

May 3, 1996

British universities raised an estimated Pounds 114 million in donations last year, according to a survey by fundraising consultants Oxford Philanthropic. But the donations were unevenly distributed, with Oxbridge taking nearly half.

The survey, commissioned by the Charities Aid Foundation, found that ten universities, 18 Oxbridge colleges and five London University institutions raised Pounds 16.65 million in total in 1994/95. On top of this Oxford and Cambridge universities, which campaign for philanthropic donations separately from the constituent colleges, raised Pounds 7.9 million and Pounds 8.6 million respectively.

Only 33 institutions participated in the survey, although all of the United Kingdom's 190 higher education institutions were sent questionnaires. So Oxford Philanthropic speculatively estimated national figures - Pounds 114 million for all institutions, with Oxbridge receiving Pounds 47.1 million - on the basis of the fundraising achievement of comparable institutions.

Judging by the success rate of the Oxbridge colleges in the survey, Oxford Philanthropic estimates that if all Oxbridge colleges raised money at the same rate, they would receive a total of Pounds 30.6 million. In total, the London institutions would receive Pounds 21.9 million, again judging by the experience of the London colleges surveyed. The remaining non-Oxbridge universities would receive Pounds 45.2 million. When this is added to the donations actually received by Oxford and Cambridge universities, it makes a national grand total of Pounds 114.2 million.

This healthy sum, described in the survey as "an underestimate rather than an overestimate", is still much smaller than donations raised even by individual Ivy League universities in the United States. As Oxford Philanthropic's director Henry Drucker, who launched the Oxford University campaign in the late 1980s and now advises the Labour party on fundraising, puts it: "Harvard makes more than this in a bad year." But the figures suggest that some institutions - mainly Oxbridge colleges - have highly professional fundraising offices.

Dr Drucker said the success of the Oxbridge colleges owes much to the calibre of former students: "They have better connected graduates than anywhere else." The 11 colleges that supplied detailed information to the survey received over half of their donations - a colossal Pounds 2.9 million - from 984 alumni: an average of nearly Pounds 3,000 per person.

The remaining income came from foundations and trusts (Pounds 715,000), other individuals (Pounds 500,000), legacies (Pounds 5,000) and companies (Pounds 166,000).

But Dr Drucker added that the other decisive factor is that Oxbridge colleges prioritise philanthropic fundraising. "It's a combination of the ground being fertile and the farmer working very hard," he explained. Some 43 colleges retain development officers - out of a total of 68. Many of these are of ancient foundation. One bursar said: "We have been fundraising for 500 years."

By contrast, organised fundraising is a new activity for most other universities. Three-quarters of the universities that reported they ran fundraising offices had set them up since 1990.

Dr Drucker, noting that several institutions in Scotland and Wales attracted large sums during fundraising campaigns, said that "if the other universities work as hard as Oxford and Cambridge, the big gap in philanthropic income should eventually be moderated". He argued that the potential market for universities was huge and largely untapped. Given that Harvard raised some $2 billion in the first five years of the 1990s, it is unlikely to match US proportions.

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