This article is more than 5 years old

The gift of giving

Increasing philanthropic investment is proof of the value of universities to society. Sue Cunningham unpacks the 2019 Philanthropic Support for Higher Education report.
This article is more than 5 years old

Sue Cunningham is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

For the third time, universities in the United Kingdom and Ireland have received more than £1bn in philanthropic investment.

This is according to the annual Giving to Excellence: Philanthropic Support for Higher Education 2019 report conducted by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) in conjunction with the Ross Group of universities. Furthermore, the report’s findings demonstrate that where institutions invest in developing a sustained and dedicated advancement function, the investment reaps dividends of greater engagement in and philanthropy to the institution over time.

Donor confidence

This annual snapshot provides valuable information for higher education institutions whose institutional leaders and advancement teams (those working in alumni relations, communications, development and marketing) work to engage communities, tell the stories of their institutions, create relationships, and secure philanthropic support to achieve their goals. It also speaks to something more fundamental: evidence of increasing philanthropic investment from donors because of their confidence in our universities and their crucial role in advancing education to transform lives and society.

The record amount of charitable contributions to the one hundred universities that responded to the survey shows the continuing growth in philanthropic investment across the region. Overall, the report indicates an 11% growth in new funds secured. 63 institutions raised more than £1m; 17 of those raised between £5m and £9,999,999; and 16 raised over £20m. And – perhaps even more compelling – around 244,000 donors gave to these one hundred universities during the year.

One hundred and thirty three of the cash gifts to institutions were for £1m or more; these gifts went predominantly to institutions who have been engaged in fundraising for at least 20 years and fall into the report’s “elite” and “established” categories of maturity in their advancement operations. However, it is important to point out that institutions categorized in the report in the “developing” advancement cluster saw an increase of 51% in new funds secured.

Career advancement

I was fortunate to begin my career in advancement (alumni relations, communications, development and marketing) at a time when the field was in its nascent stages in the United Kingdom. In the early 1990s, many institutions were just beginning to formalise strategic engagement with their communities through professional advancement. When I moved from a career in arts management to the University of St. Andrews in 1997 I had the great honour of becoming the Director of External Relations, where the university was preparing for its first professional philanthropic campaign.

In the nearly quarter-century since that time, advancement in the UK and Ireland has become an increasingly sophisticated and strategic function, enabling institutions to further their missions through generous charitable support. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) has over 3,600 institutional members in over 80 countries – it is heartening to see the steady growth that has occurred in this region. We see the evidence of this evolution through the Ross-CASE 2019 report itself, which has been conducted for over 15 years. The first report, published in 2005 analysing data from the 2004-2005 academic year, reported £350 million raised by 75 institutions. And in 2017-18, 100 institutions secured £1.08bn.

Year over year fluctuations occur, but the report’s analysis of three years of data shows that commitment to this work by university leaders for the long term reaps considerable benefits not just for higher education institutions themselves, but through them to the broader community. Philanthropy enables institutions to achieve core institutional goals, which include life changing research, transformative student experiences, direct service to their communities, and to all of us who benefit from the extraordinary knowledge creation of these fine institutions.

Giving is for everyone

Once thought of as something only a handful of institutions engage in, the growth of philanthropy across the higher education sector illustrates that donors value the contribution of these institutions, both to their communities and to the greater regional interest. They believe in these universities and demonstrate their commitment in a powerful way: through the investment of their own resources.

The generous investment comes from many sources, including foundations, graduates/alumni, non-alumni and corporations. We still have work to do engaging our alumni in the lives of our institutions. Compared to some other parts of the world, alumni participation in institutional fundraising in the UK and Ireland lags. Our alumni are supportive of their universities, but the practice of supporting one’s alma mater financially is not, in recent times, as common. We can change that story and engage them in ways that create meaning and enthusiasm. The noted investment in alumni relations functions in this report is promising. Furthermore, with the work in development by CASE to develop global alumni engagement metrics – the profound benefit of alumni engagement will be benchmarked alongside this philanthropic data in years to come.

The knowledge that nearly a quarter of a million donors committed their personal and organisational resources to support our colleges and universities is a profound proof point of the immense value of universities in the United Kingdom and Ireland in transforming lives and society.

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