Retiring types in spotlight as legacy hunters expand focus

Universities call on old employees' generosity and experience, reports Melanie Newman

August 21, 2008

King's College London is soliciting funds from former employees in the same way as it does from former students.

Other universities are changing the way they treat retired staff, in recognition of the fact that they may have much to contribute personally as well as financially.

King's has an active association of former staff and recently received a £1 million legacy from the late Ross Driver, professor of science education, to fund PhD scholarships in the discipline.

Jennifer Garner, head of alumni at King's, said: "We have a former staff group of about 700 members, who meet for social gatherings and receive the college magazine. We treat them much as we do alumni and they are solicited for funds in the same way as alumni." Professor Ross' bequest is the largest King's has received from an ex-staff member but the college has several other legacy pledges from current staff members. "They have come to us to ask about leaving gifts to projects that mean something to them," Ms Garner said.

King's is not alone in benefiting from the generosity of former staff but most other universities have stopped short of fundraising from them.

A University of Manchester spokesman said: "We do not pro- actively approach former staff for gifts or legacies although we are looking at ways we might be able to make information available to them about potential legacy gifts."

Manchester has received six legacy gifts from former staff within the past four years, with the average donation worth more than £150,000.

A gift from Wilson Horne, a professor of pathology who retired from Newcastle University in 1997, paid for the Wilson Horne Immunotherapy Centre, which opened last year. However, a Newcastle spokesman said: "We do not actively pursue retired staff for donations."

Liesl Elder, director of development at Durham University, said fundraising from staff "can be tricky", although she agreed with the general wisdom that long-serving and emeritus staff made "good legacy prospects".

Other universities are reviewing their relationship with retirees for purposes other than fundraising.

The University of Westminster is exploring ways to make the transition into retirement easier for its academics.

One idea under consideration is an "experts club", membership of which would allow retiring staff to keep their email address, have access to parts of the premises for a defined period of time, be invited to events, participate in research teams and return as occasional visiting lecturers, members of panels for presentations or supporting assessors for vivas.

Fehmeeda Riaz, Westminster's human resources manager for equality and diversity, said: "The benefits would be to provide continuity and support to the retiring staff, and provide an invaluable source of expertise to the university."

She added that the university was looking into research on emeriti retirement centres in the United States. At least 13 American universities have set up centres for retired faculty and other employees.

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