...because higher education deserves better.

We're the home of experts in higher education.

No matter your challenge, our experts will rise to it.

Let's get started.

Latest news

Kindness - the perfect guide to fundraising?

May 24, 2019

What if we reimagined fundraising using the guiding principle of kindness?

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that kindness is ‘the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate’.

To help us further:

  • ‘friendly’ is defined as ‘kind and pleasant’,
  • ‘generous’ is defined as ‘showing a readiness to give more than is necessary’, and
  • ‘considerate’ is defined as ‘careful not to inconvenience or harm others’.

Sounds like a pretty good guide to how we should behave as fundraisers. Let’s see how they could look as a set of ‘rules’ for fundraising. Maybe something like this:

“We will be friendly, generous and considerate as we fundraise. This means we will:

1. Be kind

  • We will be respectful and positive in our communications
  • We will look after each other as we work
  • We will be respectful of our donors and our recipients

2. Go above and beyond

  • We will work hard for our chosen cause
  • We will use resources efficiently
  • We will take great care of our donors and our recipients

3. Respect others

  • We will respect the right of people to say no (whilst being hopeful they will say yes)
  • We will take care of the information donors give us"

Once we have our established our ‘kindness rules’, we could then measure all our fundraising techniques against them – perhaps even giving them a score out of 10 on our ‘kindness-o-meter’. This might help us rethink some of our fundraising practices.

Let’s give it a try with street fundraising.

Now I haven’t yet met a street fundraiser who didn’t seem kind and pleasant as they beamed at me and tried to engage with me. They often seem charming and likeable. They seem ready to give more than is necessary to get me to talk to them, but it’s more than I want as I rush down the street with other things on my mind.

That’s when we get to Rule 3 – not inconveniencing others. Here is where they fail and why, ultimately, this form of fundraising is not sustainable. The reality is that I am going somewhere to do something, and I don’t want, or have time, to stop and consider giving to a charity at that moment in time.

In fact, maybe it isn’t kind to try to stop me, to make me feel rude or guilty for not engaging. I feel inconvenienced and annoyed, even though I haven’t really been inconvenienced at all. The reality is that when I am on the street going about my business, I am not ready to give my thought, time or money. It feels uncomfortable to be asked in that situation, no matter how kind or pleasant the asker is. If I do stop and talk and end up giving, the likelihood is that I won’t continue my donations because I don’t feel I have freely chosen to support the cause.

You can see how we can test our fundraising activities against this list. Similarly, on a micro-level we can test our individual actions against this list, and use it to develop new practice. How powerful it is to ask, “Will the donor feel looked after when they receive this?” or “Does this show we are kind and ready to give/do more?”

It may also help us to foster teamwork. Fundraising is hard work and turnover amongst fundraisers is high. It’s hard to recruit, and keep, good fundraisers. What if we recruited people for kindness (amongst their other qualities, skills and experience), and fostered a team where kindness drove our behaviours? See my previous blog on this topic. I am pretty sure that the fundraising results of a team which operates from the basis of kindness will be higher. If we are kind to each other, we can be kind to our donors.

And kindness doesn’t mean never asking for a gift. Indeed, once of the kindest things you can do is to ask somebody to help change lives. Many of the philanthropists I have worked with are grateful to have been asked, grateful for the joy that their giving has brought to their lives, and grateful for the satisfaction that comes from putting their money to good purpose.

Kindness does mean that you ensure the donor understands the purpose of the conversation, that you respect their interests and time, that they have a choice and that nothing is hidden.

Kindness means we can trust one another, and that trust will allow us to try new things and challenge the norms. Our profession needs to regain trust and we have to start with one another.

Susie Hills, Joint CEO and Co-founder, Halpin

When is an interim the right answer to a vacancy?

May 22, 2019

One of your key Directors has resigned. Your immediate instinct might be to replace them as soon as possible with a permanent appointment, particularly if it is an area crucial to the ongoing health and stability of the organisation. And let’s be frank – the very best situation is to have a team of excellent permanent staff in key positions, giving you excellent advice and doing an outstanding job. Even where you have an interim post, that must be the long-term aim. It’s not always immediately achievable.

Vacancies give you an opportunity to stop and think, and to probe into an area that you won’t get once you have filled that post. When might it be the right time to pause, and use interim resource to analyse and keep the show on the road?

1. When you want to investigate a problem

Bringing in a permanent appointment, who might be new to the HE sector, to undertake an analysis of the problems and take tough decisions can be a great learning process, but is extremely difficult to achieve. New appointments don’t always understand the wider context of HE, or the circumstances of the department they are now in charge of. They want to impress their senior leadership by making quick decisions and changes that may not be right for the longer term, but they will also be very careful about making enemies. HE has a long record of shifting difficult decisions to other areas and delaying them – very few people came into HE to fire people or take on significant change management, and that area can be very tough.

An experienced interim appointment, who has the credibility of having seen and done all of this before, can make bold decisions without fear of what it means for their future standing and relationships. They bring wider sector knowledge and can openly analyse a problem without fear of political ramifications. They might be able to give you the answers you want where you know there is a problem, but can’t quite see what’s causing it.

2. When there is a shortage of talent

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given is “better a vacancy than an idiot”. That’s a pretty blunt way of putting the issue, but we have all been in interview situations where we are tempted to appoint the “least bad” candidate. The area is important to you, you need someone in that post, and things are falling through the cracks while there is a vacancy. But in areas where there is a shortage of talent, this can lead to making appointment errors just to fill a post.

An interim will give you time to make a good decision, and go back to the market if you aren’t happy with the shortlist.

3. When the vacancy is sudden

It might be that you have an excellent person running a brilliant department, but they have to depart rapidly for a whole host of personal reasons. You might therefore need someone to start fairly immediately, and interim can give you the option to bring someone in within weeks, rather than months.

But isn’t acting up a better way to cover a gap?

Acting up into a role can be an excellent opportunity for team members to show their worth, and take on a “long interview” for the role they are acting into. It can be particularly effective if they are supported with mentoring and coaching, but it certainly isn’t always the best option.

Firstly, you need a clear candidate who can do the role in order to have someone acting up. If you have no-one, or if you have several people, the task is much harder. By choosing only one of a group of hopefuls to act up, you may be giving an unfair advantage, and also setting expectations that may not be met. Hiring a strategic interim can help to get the best out of the team below them, who want to impress their leadership, without handing the role to one of them to sink or swim by.

What type of interim work do you need?

There are many firms who offer to link you to interim managers and leaders. At Halpin, we believe an interim position should be part of a wider consulting team, so that you can get access to the very best advice when you need it. Your interim might be in Finance, but you can also call on the advice or former COOs, Vice-Chancellors and Directors of other professional areas to get the precise advice you need. If you have difficult problems to grapple with and solve, we would love to help you.

Shaun Horan is Joint CEO of Halpin, a management consultancy designed specifically for the higher education sector.

WONKHE 360 Perspectives Report – a sector cry for a new culture of leadership and governance.

May 21, 2019

Well done to WONKHE; their 360 perspectives report is a fascinating read. The message that came out loud and clear for me was the need for the sector to urgently refresh its culture of leadership and governance. A need to be much more open, engaged, transparent and inclusive.

My favourite quotes…

“Strategies that do not acknowledge challenges of simply business as usual are unlikely to be perceived as credible”

“The diversity of students is not reflected in the mainstream policy narrative.”

“Change is required, and that nostalgia for a golden age is not an adequate response to the external policy environment.”

“Where lacklustre leadership may be tolerated when funding and students are plentiful, the demands on leaders is to be bold, inspiring and engaging increase in times of organisational challenge.”

“Governors were perceived as lacking relevant experience, constrained by the information presented to them by the university executive and vulnerable to group-think.”

“Nobody believes that a ‘steady as she goes’ or ‘business as usual’ strategy will lead to success in these uncertain times”

“The current model of policy making is much more public, more aggressive and inevitably less nuanced but it opens up a space for deeper and wider engagement in shaping policy among those working at the front line of higher education.”

“There is little confidence that strategies are sufficiently creative or distinctive to drive investment decisions attract disproportional numbers of students and give the institution enough financial headroom to handle Brexit, pensions, Augar or other external factors”

“Leaders need to show empathy and identify with their staff and students to show that changes are not needlessly or simply commercially driven. Hence the male pale and stale change is such a warning sign. In the coming years, all universities will be developing their leadership strategies to build diverse, inclusive and high-performing leadership teams”

“Many governance arrangements were designed for a different age. They have old fashioned and cumbersome processes and rules.”

It feels like the time has come for those of us in leadership and governance roles to think afresh about how we develop institutional strategy and develop an inclusive culture. We don’t need to be heroic leaders, we need to be collegiate leaders.

Susie Hills is Joint CEO at Halpin Partnership, a management consultancy specialising in governance for higher education.

Richard Sved joins Halpin’s Consulting Fellows

May 20, 2019

Halpin is pleased to announce the addition of Richard Sved to its group of Consulting Fellows. Richard is an experienced professional with a strong track record of strategic and operational excellence in the voluntary sector stretching well over two decades.


Richard Sved

Richard's key strengths lie in charity strategic planning, fundraising, governance and communications – and the parts where all of these intersect.

Richard has led the fundraising function for seven national charities, has worked with a wide range of organisations as a consultant and trainer, and has direct experience and success in most areas of fundraising, including from individuals, trusts, HLF, Big Lottery Fund and companies. He has advised a wide range of organisations on their fundraising strategy, case for support development, and business planning in recent years, including Cancer Research UK, Tommy’s, Epilepsy Society and Girlguiding.

He also has experience of policy, communications, mentoring and governance development. Richard is Founding Director of 3rd Sector Mission Control, is a Trustee of St Albans Museums & Galleries Trust, and in his spare time established The Funding Network in Hertfordshire, which has so far raised nearly £40,000 for 11 small local organisations. He has worked and volunteered for charities for over 25 years.

Joint CEO Shaun Horan comments, “Richard is well-known and respected in the sector and he brings with him a wealth of knowledge. It is a pleasure to welcome him to the team.”

OfS views on potential threats & opportunities to the HE Sector

May 20, 2019

Skimming the latest OfS Board papers for March, I came across a report from their Horizon Scanning Panel discussion of potential threats and opportunities to the Sector.

My recent blog talked about Councils striking the right balance between time spent on strategy including horizon planning, and time spent on compliance/regulation. The OfS Board report may be useful for Council members but as they are unlikely to see the report, it may worth drawing attention to it here.

The aim of the Panel is “to look to the future over the 5-10-year horizon and anticipate and consider trends that will affect students, the sector and the OfS, with a view to recommending practical action wherever possible”.

The report states that the “introduction and implementation of our regulatory framework is expected to have a profound effect on the sector over time”. Possible implications include:

  • an increase in new smaller entrants;
  • challenges to the more traditional widely practiced methods of teaching;
  • the creation of more diverse routes to higher education where fair access and success thrives; and
  • potentially (in conjunction with the Post-18 Review) increased provision through further education along with greater consistency in regulation.

Other threats and opportunities discussed included:

Social Trends:

  • a risk that censorship undermines freedom of speech and thought;
  • expectations of higher education providers being the main way of breaking the social mould to improve individuals’ prospects without due regard to other factors;
  • (lack of) awareness of the breadth and depth of what providers do and their impact;
  • changing perceptions of the value of a higher education qualification;
  • high living costs impacting on affordability of studying away from immediate locality.

Global mega trends:

  • demographic changes including falling birth rates, increased longevity, and increasing inequality.

The changing world of work:

  • the nature of work and attitudes towards it continue to change, as do the skill demands of the labour market.

Artificial Intelligence (AI):

  • “If implemented correctly there is the possibility of providers utilising AI to contribute to making high quality education available to all through technological innovations and machine learning”.

There is a section entitled “A brilliant sector” which states,“UK providers have a strong track record and continue to foster innovative provision, and this translates to a powerful international brand. It will be important to consolidate this and maintain the standards of education that have been reached”.

It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall during this discussion, as maintaining that position must be on every Council’s agenda given the multiple threats being experienced - often as a result of government actions e.g., student visas, EU research funding and Brexit generally. .

The other element I found interesting was the use of the language of risk – threats and opportunities - and it may be worth considering how horizon scanning better connects to the University risk processes. A topic for another day. Meanwhile the OfS list should be a useful one for Councils to consider alongside their own.

Frank Toop is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin – a management consultancy specialising in governance for the higher education sector.

Shakira Martin joins Halpin Advisory Group

May 09, 2019

Halpin Partnership, a management consultancy specialising in higher education, has welcomed Shakira Martin to its Advisory Group. In addition to this, Shakira has also joined Halpin’s pool of Consulting Fellows.

Shakira Martin

Shakira is outgoing National President of the National Union of Students UK, representing 7 million students across Further and Higher Education, most recently successful leading on an organisational turnaround strategy.

She is known for pioneering NUS's Poverty Commission, shining a light on the barriers still facing working class people accessing FE and HE. She is one of only a handful of people to hold the post from an FE background, and the first black woman to have held the role in NUS's 96-year history.

Shakira's campaigning credentials are well-established, with major wins under her belt on student representation, funding, and access. She makes regular local and national media appearances and is passionate about equality in education in terms of access and outcomes. As President she coined the phrase, “It's not just about getting in, it’s about getting on”.

Joint CEO Susie Hills commented, “The addition of Shakira Martin as an Advisory Group Member and a Consulting Fellow will be of huge benefit to both Halpin and our clients, and we are pleased that she has agreed to join us.”

5 smart reasons to review your portfolio

May 07, 2019

If there was a bingo list of the phrases that university managers would least like to hear, I suspect “portfolio review” would be near the top. But the size, shape and substance of the courses on offer is at the heart of a university’s purpose, and it is neglected at your peril.

Portfolio reviews can be at faculty level or university-wide. They may focus on just undergraduate or PGT courses, or may include everything else ranging from online provision or short courses, to degree apprenticeships and the doctoral programme.

In this post, we’ll share five reasons for reviewing your portfolio and some of the different perspectives on how you might assess each programme.

1. Market demand. Do you remember the “If you build it, he will come” mantra from Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams (1989)? Those of us born before c.1980 will know that Shoeless Joe Jackson did indeed turn up to pitch a few balls in the end. Alas, happy endings are not so easy to find in today’s world of higher education, so having evidence that there is a market for each course is the first, important step. Market analysis has two steps; the first is to understand the current demand and application trends for each subject, and the second is to analyse your own performance within it.

2. Financial health.Buoyant student recruitment doesn’t necessarily lead to good financial returns, though it usually helps. If a course isn’t making sufficient financial contribution, then consider whether an increase in student numbers would be possible. If not, can the cost base be improved through removing inefficiencies in how it is structured or delivered?

3. Graduate outcomes. The proportion of your students in graduate roles will influence league tables and invariably also end up in your own marketing messages. How this is measured is an issue worthy of debate, but the basic principle is a good one – students deserve an education that will enable them to find a job at a reasonable level, and succeed in it. If your course isn’t preparing your students for their future, then something has to change.

4. Employer needs. Related to #3, but from a different viewpoint. The headline that 85% of the jobs that will be needed in 2030 don’t exist yet is complete hogwash, but the bigger point is that new skills and expertise in emerging technologies are likely to be in demand over the coming years. Courses and modules need to be updated to reflect these changing needs if they – and your graduates – are to remain relevant.

5. Student experience. Another league table measurement and (quite rightly) the hot topic of higher education conferences and university committees alike. For all the NSS detail available to you, nothing beats listening to your students. They are living and breathing the reality of studying on their course and their stories will help you to easily identify the things that work - and those that need fixing.

Above all, any portfolio review needs to make sure that the objectives and principles have a good fit with your institution. What’s right for one university won’t be right for another. Also remember that the whole point of a portfolio is that it includes a range of courses; not everyone has to fit the same mould or play an equal role, and there’s usually room in there for a good few outliers.

If you are preparing for your institution’s future and would like a conversation about reviewing your portfolio, contact [email protected]

Ross CASE 2019: Fundraising growth, but not as we [knew] it

May 03, 2019

Why we aren’t living up to the hopes of the 2012 Pearce Report.

The Ross CASE Survey 2019 results are out. This shows the state of fundraising in the Higher Education sector, and as always it makes for fascinating reading for all those interested in Development.

There are some great headlines: the sector secured over £1bn in new funds. That’s an amazing climb from 10 years ago when it stood at £350m (and from ten years before that when it was almost non-existent). Cash received also grew, as did the overall number of donors.

However, I sat on the Pearce Report into the Higher Education Workforce in 2012, and we had the following hope:

"There is potential for philanthropic income of some £2 billion additional funding per annum from around 640,000 donors, with an alumni participation rate of 5%, by 2022. Income from legacies will become increasingly significant." - Pearce Report 2012

As I look at the report that has just been published, we are at £1 billion, from 244,116 donors, with an alumni participation rate of 1.3%. That latter figure has in particular has crept up only marginally since the report when it stood at 1.2%.

Well, obviously, we are not yet at 2022, but it would be an optimistic soul who felt we could get to the levels projected in 2012 in a couple of years’ time. The projection for the Pearce Report was based on the run-rate from the previous ten years, so why has the last decade not kept pace with the growth we saw originally?

1. It’s the economy stupid…

It is certainly true that the recession/depression/crisis that we have experienced since 2008/9 has been one of the longest and strangest on record. Recovery has not taken place as it has done in previous recessions, and growth has remained very flat. That has been very patchy though – some industries have seen major increases, and overall donations have continued to rise. While economic uncertainty (otherwise known as Brexit) doesn’t help anyone, does it fully explain why our fundraising totals in HE are roughly half of what was predicted?

2. Investment

There is a telling headline in the 2019 report, which shows that investment in fundraising fell by 4%. That’s not hugely surprising in a sector that is facing massive uncertainty on all fronts, and investment has been cut in all areas, not just fundraising. But that cut won’t have helped institutional ability to raise more funds. Long-term investment is correlated strongly with fundraising success. Of course it is, that’s a no-brainer isn’t it?

3. Senior posts and the brain drain

Talking of brains, the Pearce Review made much comment on the fact that senior fundraisers did not have a career track once they had become Directors of Development. The posts of Pro-Vice-Chancellor or Vice-President Development have been very slow to materialise. They are increasing, but at a snail’s pace. Australia, on the other hand, has hugely increased these posts, and have recruited some brilliant talent from the UK and the USA to sit directly on their Senior Management Boards. In an industry that is hugely personality driven (successful fundraising offices depend greatly on their leadership, and a dip is often seen when such leaders exit), that is a significant loss that really does need to be addressed. The Academic/Professional Services class divide that persists in the UK is helping no-one.

4. We started from a low base

In the ten years before 2012, fundraising in HE was only just being born. Many universities only set up fundraising offices in the early 2000s, having never asked their alumni or anyone else for anything before – or certainly not for a very long time. It therefore had a huge amount of headroom to grow, and has done so extremely successfully. Perhaps it was too much to expect that rate of growth to continue, particularly in the face of a historically huge recession.

5. The asking problem

We are often called in to assess a fundraising office where there is a challenge, and funds being raised are not as expected. The single biggest factor that causes fundraising to fail is a lack of asking, and a lack of building a pipeline of donors who can give now and in the future. This issue is also linked to a lack of available talent, and losing the best fundraisers in the system – they aren’t there to guide their team, and they aren’t there to hand their knowledge and skill on to the wider sector. If you want to raise more, you have to ask more, ask well and ask more ambitiously. We aren’t yet seeing enough of that across all fundraising offices.

There will be many other reasons as to why we aren’t accelerating as fast as we might in HE fundraising, and I don’t want to take away from the amazing achievements of the past 20 years. To be raising at or near £1billion per year consistently, from a negligible base only 20 years ago, is astonishing and universities are to be congratulated for their progress. But we want more don’t we? We want our amazing HE sector to be the best-funded in the world, by both private and public money, so that it can continue to solve the world’s problems.

If we want it to do that, then we need fundraising to continue to grow in a turbo-charged way. I would say the recipe for that is to keep investing in fundraising, keep our very best talent in the UK, and keep asking big. Great institutions deserve great and ambitious fundraising. It doesn’t come for free.

Shaun Horan, CEO & Joint Co-founder, Halpin.

Halpin is a management consultancy for the higher education sector. If you need help with your fundraising, get in touch.

Fundraising Mentoring with Shaun Horan

Apr 30, 2019

develop (n) - grow or cause to grow and become more mature, advanced, or elaborate.

As a Director of Development, the pressures on you can be intense.

Fundraising for your institution is as demanding as it is rewarding, and to succeed you must focus on your own development alongside your institution’s.

Working with a mentor with years of similar experience will pay dividends.

Shaun’s success as a mentor lies in his exceptional ability to find clarity in the most complex situations. He has over 20 years of senior-level international fundraising and has worked on complex projects spanning fundraising, strategy, equality and diversity, alumni relations and communications.

Shaun Horan 12-09-18 Smaller.jpg

Shaun Horan, Joint CEO, Halpin

Shaun is an expert in creating and leading major campaigns, having designed the first of its kind at Reading, and having advised on countless others for clients including schools, universities and major charities.

Contact us to book an exploratory call with Shaun, and download the flyer for more info.

What people say about Shaun and his mentoring...

"Shaun’s professional knowledge and experience in fundraising is supreme, yet his steady, relaxed and disciplined demeanour invites meaningful dialogue no matter how testing the topic. A thoughtful and respectful listener, he offers empathy and understanding - essential qualities of excellent mentors. He is crisp in his analysis of challenges and articulate in sharing recommendations. I have gained significant confidence from his support.” William A Roth, Executive Director, Principal Gifts, University of Toronto

"Shaun has a wonderful blend of wisdom, patience and empathy which creates a very safe and supportive environment in which to explore challenges. Over the years he’s expertly facilitated me reaching my own solutions, and intervened to provide practical counsel when I actually just need to hear how to do it from someone who’s done it. Time with Shaun is an investment in yourself and your organisation that’s well-worth making.” Nathalie Walker, CEO, Dublin City University Educational Trust

How to tackle inequality in your institution

Apr 24, 2019

How do you tackle inequality in your institution? If we are starting right at the beginning of this journey (which many of us are – even though we do not want to admit it!) then the simple answer is to own it. Everything else will follow.

But how do you own it? Who does the responsibility sit with? Where do we start?

Well, let’s start with being honest.

Take a look around you - your team, your institution’s leadership. Do you see evidence of inequality?

If we do not actively look for the inequalities in our institutions, how can we expect to overcome them? How can we remove the barriers which impede certain people from seizing the same opportunities as others?

We know inequalities exist and in many different forms – social, gender or race-based to name a few. We know that tackling inequality is the right thing to do, but let’s recap on the top three reasons why institutions do it.

  • It has a positive impact on your institution’s performance (up to 35%!).
  • It has a positive impact on your talent management.
  • If you do not address inequality, you run a high risk of significant negative impact on your institution’s reputation.

There are some examples recently of institutions taking reputational damage because they have been slow to act, not acted enough or sometimes not acted at all. Yes… some institutions think they can still brush things under the carpet, even in the age of social media.

Let’s talk about inequality more. Even if it’s uncomfortable and it doesn’t quite come out right (Liam Neeson). Harvard have a nice, open way of doing this.

How can we talk about equality in a safe way?

Here are my top three tips:

  • A great first move is to provide a space for people to get comfortable with talking about equality. I say this because we need to talk to each other first before we can tell the outside world what our position on this is. Our own narrative needs to be honest and driven by all of us.
  • Invite staff and student to create and join networks to talk about EDI – provide incentives (there are many).
  • A real game changer is to engage alumni, senior management and governors to participate in a significant way.

Equality is everybody’s responsibility. Communicate this well and often and by everyone.

There are some great examples of owning the narrative, creating space for dialogue and clearly stating your institution’s position.

Exeter, Glasgow and Birmingham’s campaigns have all impressed me, but my favourite has to be Manchester’s ‘We get it’ campaign. Simple, clear and inclusive!

Some brave institutions are openly collaborating and collectively improving the way they tackle inequality together.

Now is really the time to get moving with tackling inequality. The government has recently called on universities to do more to tackle ethnic disparity. The very best examples of EDI in higher education are always found within the institutions that value and prioritise not just the collection of relevant data consistently, but also the subsequent analysis and implementation of improvements.

So how do you start to tackle inequality? Own it, make space to talk about it and collect the data.

For those further on in the journey - how do you continue to tackle inequality?

We still need great data practices, but then we need to use it to underpin our institutional stories of inequality. These stories will move and mobilise our leadership and that’s when the really exciting changes can happen.

Fezzan Ahmed is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin, the home of experts in higher education, conducting in-depth and insightful race and equality reviews for institutions just like yours.