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UK university fundraising growing in value and effectiveness, says HEFCE

UK university fundraising growing in value and effectiveness, says HEFCE
University fundraising results 2007 - 2011 by Ross-CASE data

University fundraising results 2007 – 2011

University fundraisers have successfully developed a culture of philanthropy among alumni over the past decade, boosting income and the number of donors. This is the one of the findings in HEFCE’s (The Higher Education Funding Council of England) ‘Review of Philanthropy in UK Higher Education’.

The review looks at how fundraising has changed over the past 10 years, and draws out lessons from the successes achieved. It was set up in January 2012 by HEFCE to address the next decade’s challenges in increasing voluntary giving to higher education. It was chaired by Professor Shirley Pearce, former Vice‑Chancellor of Loughborough University.

Growth in UK university fundraising

In the past five years alone UK universities have increased annual income from £513 million (131 institutions) to £693 million (152 institutions). They have increased the number of donors (including trusts, corporates, alumni and non-alumni) from 132,000 to 204,000, a 54% increase.

Higher education now accounts for more donations of £1 million or more than any other sector, according to the report, quoting at least 20 universities that had received such gifts between 2010-11.

There are now “many good examples of fundraising universities in the UK, rather than a handful of universities with fundraising offices”.

Oxford and Cambridge Universities “have led the way” with each of them launching successful £1 billion campaigns, “the philanthropic equivalent of the 4-minute mile and the most successful major gift fundraising of any charitable organisations in Europe”.

Reasons for successful university fundraising

The report, produced by specialist fundraising consultants More Partnership, lists a number of lessons learned that have contributed to this success.

• Investment in fundraising works: there is a correlation between capacity-building and performance

• Focusing on donor motivation unlocks the biggest gifts. Donors show little interest in investing in infrastructure: they prefer to support the advancement of learning or help students directly.

• Matched funding schemes have worked well in England and Wales.

Future developments and recommendations

The report recommends that “all universities should develop institutional advancement plans – including fundraising, alumni relations and communications activities – based on a clear understanding of their own distinctiveness, goals and particular opportunities”. It adds that there is now a growing pool of expertise and good practice to learn from.

The report calls on the sector to set a target of 5% for the participation rate amongst alumni over the next 10 years. Currently it is 1.2%. In the US, which has a longer history of university fundraising, the participation rate is 10%.

Although the higher education sector can learn lessons from other charities and sectors, such as using digital media and promoting legacy giving, universities now employ a growing number of experienced and effective fundraisers. “Whereas in the past higher education looked to the US for good practice in fundraising, there is now a lot of expertise within the UK to be celebrated.”

The report suggests that universities will begin to see a growth in giving from Asia, and will need to invest further in fundraising from these countries.

Despite the overall success, the sector is very short of experienced university fundraisers, so the report recommends HEFCE should fund “a thorough review of workforce and training issues to assist in developing a clear set of specific recommendations”.

The 64 page report can be downloaded in PDF from


Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp and co-founder of Research massive growth in giving.

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