Prestige doesn't guarantee gains in fundraising, but asking will help

February 3, 2006

There is no clear link between successful fundraising and the age or size of a university, according to preliminary findings from a major report of philanthropic giving to higher education.

There is, however, a clear link between success in fundraising and the number of staff employed in the development or fundraising office.

The report from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (Case) is intended to provide universities and their development offices with clear information on how much individual universities raise.

Joanna Motion, vice-president for international operations at Case, said:

"Such information is readily available in the US. It is crucial for donors as well as for universities to have some professional benchmarks."

Ms Motion said the report showed that there was room in the market for the "we try harder" university.

"This is a challenge to the received wisdom that universities with prestigious alumni and large endowments are the better fundraisers," she said.

Case plans to make fundraising information on individual universities public in 2007.

Mike Smithson, development director at York University, said the data would lead inevitably to league tables.

"Once vice-chancellors see the tables, they will sit up and take notice if their office is performing less well than a comparable office. It will improve the professionalism of the whole sector," he said.

When Case first conducted a survey of philanthropic health in higher education four years ago, 19 universities responded. In the most recent survey, 80 universities responded.

In the same period, the Government set up a £7.5 million match-funding scheme to help develop endowment funds at universities, which had to complete the survey to be eligible. The first stage attracted 78 bids.

C. Duncan Rice - principal of Aberdeen University and a member of the Ad Hoc group of vice-chancellors, an informal group that meets to promote fundraising in universities - said: "In the US, it is standard practice to keep tabs on fundraisers in this way."

He said that since he arrived at Aberdeen in 1996, there had been a huge change in UK attitudes towards fundraising. "Most of my fellow vice-chancellors are now actively engaged in fundraising in a way that they were not a few years ago."

In 1999, Aberdeen launched an ambitious fundraising campaign to mark the start of the university's sixth century. In the first phase of the project, the university exceeded its initial target of £40 million by £7 million.

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