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Strategic fundraising

26 August 2014

Report page For senior leaders in universities who are considering scaling up their fundraising function, looking at when to invest or seeking to ensure continuous, sustainable growth.

  • Why philanthropy is important
  • How to strategically align philanthropy with the institution’s strategic plan
  • The link between philanthropy and an institution’s distinctive identity
  • How to engage key stakeholders in philanthropy
  • The importance of consistency in ensuring sustainability

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) provides a suite of materials entitled Fundraising Fundamentals for vice-chancellors and newly appointed development directors to guide them in the process.

Universities make a significant contribution to the UK economy, some £73 billion in 2011–12 (The impact of universities on the UK economy, UUK 2014). However, with inevitable cuts in public spending and an increased dependency on tuition fees, higher education institutions need to diversify their income streams to ensure long-term financial sustainability. This may take many forms, from developing commercial activities to increasing research contracts and, of course, philanthropy.
Philanthropy in higher education is not new. Prior to the Robbins Report (1963), many educational institutions were founded on philanthropy, whether that was by royal patronage, civic leaders or public subscription.
In recent history, although governments have provided substantial funding to educational institutions, the income from philanthropic sources has been an increasingly significant component of the funding mix.

What are the benefits of fundraising?

Philanthropy provides flexible income to support the projects and activities that core funding often cannot finance.

Philanthropy enables universities to build on their strengths, enhance student experience, extend research programmes and create the best possible environments within which people can excel.

Philanthropy builds networks of friends and supporters who contribute to the long-term wellbeing of the university in ways beyond their financial contribution.

A note on the importance of alumni relations

While the focus of this resource is fundraising, the link with alumni relations is fundamental and often precedes the development of the fundraising function. As such, it should demand considerable attention when thinking about fundraising start-up and growth activities, strategy and vision.

Alumni today want to engage with, participate in and speak to their university or college. As such they have a vested interest in the welfare of their alma mater. Just as commercial companies need to listen and adapt to their customers to remain competitive, universities and colleges must actively involve their alumni in the life of the institution. When they do so, they will see a return on investment that benefits the entire institution

What can alumni relations offer?

Often alumni relations is treated as a stand-alone activity, divorced from other institutional advancement endeavours. Whereas an integrated, strategic approach can reap significant financial and non-financial dividends.

Many alumni offices wait until students are in their final year before they begin to engage them. But awareness should be built from the moment the student arrives on campus – students remain for a few years, but being an alumnus is lifelong. Keeping in close contact with alumni is an effective means for universities and colleges to both cultivate their alumni community and continue to receive their support.

If a college or university wants to connect with its alumni, it has to engage with them actively and genuinely. An academic degree is a transformative experience, and not purely from an intellectual perspective; it can impact on many aspects of an individual’s life: socially, culturally, economically. It is important to harness enthusiasm among alumni; to establish a sense of belonging and to nurture a life-long relationship.

The team

Jovan Luzajic

Jovan Luzajic

Senior Policy Analyst
Universities UK

Julie Tam

Julie Tam

Deputy Director of Policy
Universities UK

Daniel Wake

Daniel Wake

Policy Analyst
Universities UK


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