UK chases golden prospects as US donors retreat

British fundraisers still upbeat despite record fall in American gifts. Hannah Fearn reports

February 15, 2010

British universities are confident that their fundraising programmes will pay dividends even as giving to US higher education registers its biggest drop ever.

The latest report from the Council for Aid to Education, which was published last week, shows that contributions from private donors to American colleges and universities fell by 11.9 per cent to $.8 billion (£17.7 billion) in 2009, the largest decline ever recorded.

It follows a period of sustained growth in philanthropic income for US universities, which have enjoyed an average annual increase of 4 per cent over the previous decade.

Kate Hunter, executive director of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Europe, said the US decline was “more acute than anticipated”.

But she argued that UK universities were unlikely to face a similar drop in gift income.

The most recent UK figures available show that charitable giving to the higher education sector is still increasing, and Ms Hunter said that she expected this trend to continue.

“Voluntary giving to higher education in the US is in a more mature phase, and although lessons can be drawn for the UK, the culture of giving to education is still developing in this country.”

The Government’s match-funding scheme to promote philanthropic activity will help the UK though the downturn, she said.

“We expect to see an increase in giving to education as we learn of the first wave of results from the match-funding scheme.

“Earlier fundraising capacity-building and an increasing professionalism combined with the match-funding scheme and an overall growth in educational philanthropy should cushion the sector from some of the effects of the recession,” Ms Hunter concluded.

Shaun Horan, director of development at the University of Reading, said there was still scope to expand UK alumni giving regardless of the state of the economy.

“Because we’re still new to this and still engaging new alumni, there are still large numbers of people that we have got to reach. There is still room to grow,” he said.

“My impression is also that we have stayed optimistic in the UK higher education sector. In American universities, people were almost cutting the staff before the credit crunch had come through.”

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