Task force sees merit in drive to tap alumni

May 14, 2004

British universities could generate an extra £600 million a year from fundraising but face an uphill struggle prising donations out of tight-fisted former students, a government task force concludes this week.

A report from the endowments task force says that if Britons could be persuaded to follow the example of US donors, universities could raise £400 for each undergraduate or about £600 million annually.

Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of Bristol University and task force chair, said: "We can do this. As charities, we fulfil a noble purpose, but the problem is we don't ask for money enough. There is no magic here. There is an established set of techniques to raise money that we have to learn."

The report calls on the government to consider "pump-priming" university development departments by match-funding any investments they make. And, as The Times Higher revealed exclusively last week, the task force also recommends increased tax incentives for rich donors.

The report says that while top Ivy League universities such as Harvard have multibillion-dollar endowment funds "that would not disgrace a small country's gross domestic product", only half of British universities have funds of more than £1 million.

This is partly due to a more generous culture of giving in the US, where people donate about 1.8 per cent of the country's GDP to charity compared with 0.7 per cent in Britain.

It also reflects the higher priority given to education in the US, where 14 per cent of charitable donations go to education and 8 per cent to higher education. In Britain, education barely features among charity-givers'

priorities.

But all is not lost, the report says. "Most of the money raised by institutions in the USA has been done so over the past 20 years," it says.

Florida State University, for example, raised $150 million (£85 million) last year, compared with $2 million in 1976.

"The US culture of giving is different from that in the UK, but part of the reason for this is because the US culture of asking is different," the report says.

It says that British universities need to shake off the idea that by soliciting money, academic freedom will be compromised. The government also needs to offer reassurance that extra money raised will not be cut from the public funding of the sector, it adds.

But as a fundamental first step universities need to expand and professionalise their fundraising.

Well-established offices in the US can return between $6 and $10 for every $1 invested, the report says.

Vice-chancellors' roles should be reviewed and possibly split into two to give fundraising activities higher priority. Senior staff should have training in the art of fundraising.

Recommendations for the UK

  • A national survey to examine attitudes about voluntary giving to higher education and factors that would motivate donors
  • Universities UK and the Committee of University Chairmen should review the roles of vice-chancellors, chancellors and chairs of councils to "give greater prominence to the advancement of the institution and the development function"
  • The Leadership Foundation for Higher Education should include training in fundraising in its courses for university bosses
  • Governing bodies should examine the scope for greater involvement and recognition of lay leaders, such as trustees of an institution's development foundation
  • There should be greater recognition for giving to higher education by institutions and national leaders
  • The higher education sector should have transparent accounting for donations and share benchmark data
  • The government should consider allowing those making large donations to claim full income tax relief through self-assessment
  • Criteria for eligibility for tax relief should be extended to include unquoted shares and personal property. Planned "giving vehicles" should be available in the UK
  • There should be a matched-funding scheme to support institutions' capacity to build fundraising.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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