Senior leadership teams should include fundraising professionals

Incoming Case president Sue Cunningham says that move would herald ‘real engagement’ and help to drive success

January 15, 2015

UK universities should consider promoting more fundraising professionals to senior management positions.

That is the view of Sue Cunningham, formerly the director of development at the University of Oxford, who will in March become the first non-American president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Ms Cunningham has been vice-principal (advancement) at the University of Melbourne since 2011 and told Times Higher Education that the opportunity to take on an executive role had been one of the things that tempted her to move abroad.

She is not the only British fundraiser to have gone overseas in search of a senior management post, and a report written for the Higher Education Funding Council for England last year says that some development leaders are frustrated by an “Upstairs, Downstairs” institutional culture in which they feel like “second-class citizens” compared with their academic counterparts. Career progression is the most commonly cited reason for leaving the sector, the report adds.

Although some universities had appointed development professionals to their top team, the UK still lagged behind Australia and North America, Ms Cunningham said.

“I think it’s an important thing for a university to consider. I wouldn’t want to speak for every university – there are very different circumstances in different places – but the skill sets that I see among advancement professionals lend themselves very well in terms of strategy, direction, leadership and vision.”

While Ms Cunningham attributed the slower progress in the UK to the maturity of the profession and the readiness of fundraisers to step up to senior roles, she said the universities that were most successful in development activities were ones with “real engagement on the part of the institutional leadership”.

Recruitment is an issue at all levels of fundraising. The Hefce report warns that UK universities could miss their target of raising £2 billion a year if they do not at least double the number of staff in the profession by 2022.

Case has set up a fundraising graduate training scheme in partnership with UK institutions, and Ms Cunningham, who has also served as director of external relations at the University of St Andrews, said that recruitment would be a priority. “The key issue is raising awareness of this being a really important profession and one that is a very enjoyable and fulfilling one.”

Ms Cunningham’s appointment has been hailed as a sign of the internationalisation of higher education philanthropy and of the expansion of expertise outside the US.

To suggest that any one region of the world had a “monopoly on expertise and experience” was “wrong”, she said.

However, the amount of money raised by US universities still dwarfs most international rivals, and Ms Cunningham said that closing the gap would be a long-term process for less well-established sectors.

“If it’s about relationship-building, it takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight,” she added.

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

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