UK higher education becomes the main destination for million-pound donations

Higher education received more million-pound gifts than any other fundraising sector in the UK in 2008-09, according to an annual survey published by Coutts.

November 15, 2010

The Coutts Million Pound Donors Report 2010 shows that universities have overtaken charitable trusts and foundations as the main destination for major donations for the first time.

Universities received 37 per cent of the total value of all gifts of at least £1 million made during the period, and more than half (58 per cent) of all “spent” donations, which calculates the sum given directly to a cause rather than “banked” in a foundation or trust for later distribution.

There were 66 donations of more than £1 million made to universities in 2008-09 – a third of all donations. Arts and culture, which came second, received 24 major gifts while religious organisations and causes received two.

The study claims that the preference for donating to higher education was “partly due to wealthy donors’ understanding of the wide-ranging roles that universities play in improving society, in terms of both educating the next generation and researching solutions to pressing scientific and social problems”.

However, the increase is also explained by the existence of special incentives to encourage giving to universities, including the UK government’s £200 million matched funding scheme launched in 2008. Since its launch, the scheme has contributed to a 12 per cent increase in donations of all sizes.

Joanna Motion, vice-president of international operations at Case the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, said figures contained in the Coutts report represented “the fundraising equivalent of breaking the four-minute mile”.

“UK universities are able to attract so many million-pound donations because they are increasingly fundraising-friendly and fundraising-ready,” she said. “With a cash incentive in front of them, universities professionalised their development operations and talked to their supporters with a new urgency. The scheme also funded an investment in structured training.”

She said the programme would leave a “powerful legacy” for fundraising in the sector.

Vice-chancellors wrote to the Chancellor, George Osborne, in October to ask about his plans for the matched funding scheme in the wake of spending cuts. Its future remains unclear.

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