Perils of persuading people to part with cash

August 28, 2008

The instability of the personality-driven world of university fund- raising was discussed at the European conference of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (Case) this week, following the departure of the University of Oxford's chief fundraiser.

Jon Dellandrea, one of the top-rated higher education fundraisers in the world, announced he would be leaving Oxford last month just as the campaign he was spearheading to raise £1.25 billion was gathering momentum.

As Times Higher Education reported, the move is rumoured to have followed a clash with a donor who gave £25 million to an Oxford college and who is also chair of the US branch of the university's fundraising campaign.

This week the ramifications of the incident featured at the Case Europe conference in Brighton, at which Dr Dellandrea was due to speak alongside Young Dawkins, vice-principal for development and alumni at the University of Edinburgh.

Mr Dawkins, speaking to Times Higher Education in advance of the event, said the absence of Dr Dellandrea highlighted "one of the realities of the business - that the institution is bigger than any individual".

He said: "It's very clear that there was some sort of breakdown in the relationship (and) I think that can happen anywhere, but Jon is the best fundraiser I've ever known.

"At the end of the day, fundraising is a very complex business which depends entirely on human interaction, and it seems that, for whatever reason, that broke down on Oxford."

Mr Dawkins said the incident underlined the unique status of fund-raising in higher education.

"Fundraising works because people give to people, and this is a relationship-building exercise, so when people don't get along for whatever reason, you just can't carry things forward. The fact is that it doesn't always work," said Mr Dawkins.

"It's also one of the few places in academia where there is absolute accountability. You either raise the money or you don't, and that's it."

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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