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

by Shaun Horan | May 3, 2019 | Fundraising

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.