Are there more original voices in UK Higher Ed Fundraising?

A couple of months ago I spoke at the CASE Europe Annual Conference in Manchester. I turned out to be quite a busy boy – speaking about some of the work we’ve been doing at Leeds on data modelling, chairing a session by the excellent and provocative Stephen Pidgeon, and helping to feed back on the results of the first attempt by 15 UK higher ed institutions to benchmark the effectiveness of their ‘annual giving’ programmes.

And now I’ve got my feedback – and thanks to all who gave me good ratings and constructive criticism! And yes, 45 minutes is not long enough to try and teach folks how to do data mining from scratch 🙂

But one of the comments has stuck out for me over the weekend, from someone who evidently thinks I’m a bit over exposed, “there have to be more original voices in the annual fund realm”!

And you know what – I agree! There have to be, don’t there? After all, I don’t see myself as a particularly original thinker – I’m just trying to take and apply years of what I’ve learned in charity fundraising outside the university sector, and make it work for the university that now employs me.

Stephen Pidgeons’s comments from his Third Sector article about the conference seem very pertinent to me – while he thinks that universities are excellent at soliciting major gifts, he thinks our direct marketing fundraising is ‘stuck in the dark ages’. I agree.

I think it’s linked to the perception, still very prevalent in the HE sector, that what we do in annual giving is an ‘entry level’ job – from which someone will progress to the heady heights of major gifts. Which of course is the only route to becoming a head of a university fundraising department.

Many of my fundraising colleagues outside HE will find this unbelievable. The activity that accounts for 90% or more of our individual supporters – ‘entry level’? When major national charities have had heads of fundraising who have worked all their careers in the DM sphere?

Major gifts are undoubtedly hugely important to any charity and we universities are pretty good at getting them. But look at the figures for a moment.

I know from screening our data that around a quarter of our alumni give to other charities. Yet only around 2% of those same alumni in any one year give to us, Leeds, their university. If we could inspire them to give to us it would be worth around £2,000,000 annually, that we urgently need! And nationally, because the proportion who give to universities vs other charities are pretty comparable, it could be worth tens if not hundreds of millions of pounds of philanthropic income.

But it requires a massive leap in our messaging and practice. So who’s going to lead the way to get our ‘annual giving’ to the level of our ‘major gifts’? Will it be CASE, our university fundraising association? Will it be Bob Burdenski, the much loved and respected godfather (in a good way!) to the UK annual giving sector? One of my excellent senior colleagues in annual giving who do great work but just don’t blog or tweet as much as I do? Or a hugely talented young fundraiser in this ‘entry level’ sphere who could help make the biggest difference to university fundraising in a century?

Come on – let’s be seeing you, whoever you are!


1 Comment

Filed under Fundraising, Universities, University fundraising

One response to “Are there more original voices in UK Higher Ed Fundraising?

  1. Adrian Salmon

    Paul de Gregorio has just posted these great thoughts from A J Leon on his blog:"The world, especially the digital world, is moving far too fast for benchmarking.Don’t wait to find out how something works out for others and try and copy it – do it first.Do it first and expect to fail.If you believe in something, go for it, you’re probably better asking for forgiveness if it goes wrong that permission to try in the first place.If you ask for permission you will probably be refused, so don’t ask.Writing a 10 year digital strategy is just stupid, think back to what technology we were using 10 years ago.Anyone can do this, you don’t need to be a native, you just need to be willing to learn and change how you do things.There is too much average stuff in the world, be bold, take a risk, follow your instinct and you might actually do something really special."Amen to all of that!!

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