Category Archives: University fundraising

Posts about fundraising for universities

Parent, Adult, Child – what can the insights of psychotherapy bring to alumni relations and fundraising?

Alumni fundraising is a bit different. Of course with any kind of fundraising you’re going to get angry responses, it goes with the territory. But sometimes those of us who work in the fundraising offices of universities get responses so out of proportion to the nature of our appeals, that it does make us sit and wonder what on earth is going on?

Before I became a fundraiser, I was a couple of other things. I was a semi-professional singer, but also, when I realised I wasn’t on track to become the next Peter Pears, I started training as a counsellor and psychotherapist.

In the course of my training I came across the ideas of Eric Berne, and Transactional Analysis, or TA for short. And so, many years later, as I started reading these appeal responses full of anger and a personal sense of grievance that we had dared to ask for a donation it began to occur to me, “Oh, these are classic crossed transactions!”

So, what’s Berne’s insight, and how can it help us understand our alumni better?

Well, Berne’s hypothesis is that there are three ego-states which we all move between, more or less fluidly, moment to moment in our daily lives:

The Parent, which is the internalisation of ideas, beliefs and values we have taken from our parents, families and other authority figures in our lives.

The Child, which is the internalisation of our own childhood self as we processed the input from our parents, families and other authority figures

The Adult, a more neutral ego-state, that corresponds to our more rational decision-making persona

Each of these ego-states affects the others, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on our own personal histories.

For example, someone who has experienced love, affection and prizing of themselves in their childhood is likely to have internalised a Nurturing Parent ego-state, and a corresponding Free Child.

Someone who has experienced the opposite is more likely to have internalised a Criticising Parent and Adapted Child.

The Parent and Child ego-states can have profound effects on the ability of the Adult ego-state to function freely, or even at all.

The nature of our ego-states lead to 4 basic ‘life-positions’ that Berne suggests underpin all our subsequent transactions with others:

  1. I’m OK and you are OK.
  2. I’m OK and you are not OK.
  3. I’m not OK and you are OK.
  4. I’m not OK and you are not OK.

We may hold one of these positions consistently in all our dealings with the world, or we may switch between them in different circumstances.

I hope it’s starting to become clear how the university – alumni relationship may be a bit more psychologically loaded than donor – charity relationships in the wider sector?

Because if we accept Berne’s hypotheses, it would seem to naturally place us and our alumni in a Parent – Child ego-state relationship, dating back to their time as students.

Have we been perceived as Nurturing parents – or Criticising, even Abandoning, parents by our alumni?

Because, if Berne’s structure is valid, this may govern whether, when we subsequently attempt to reconnect, we receive a joyful Free Child response in return, or a sullen and angry Adapted Child jab.

And how could we work with this better in the way we communicate with our alumni?



Filed under Fundraising, Life and big stuff, Universities, University fundraising

Flipping the coin

I took part in two great Twitter chats over this last week or so. One was instigated by Damian O’Broin (@damianobroin) of AskDirect – you can read a Storify of it here:

The other started off the back of the response to it from Danielle Atkinson of Merlin (@roxymartinique) – which you can read here:

Both are about what one thing you should do to improve direct marketing fundraising.

Damian’s chat focused on inspiring people, Danielle insisted on robust testing and measurement of the response of large numbers of people.

Both are right.

Direct marketing fundraising is a double-sided coin. On the one side the individual is writ large, because as the great advertiser Fairfax Cone said, we must

Write to one person, not a million

(Thanks to @jeffbrooks for that)

On the other side of the coin, you have the response of the million, or the ten thousand, or however many people your audience is made up of.

The King or Queen, and the realm, if you like.

And our job is to flip the coin in our minds – from one to many, and from many to one. Every day, every week, every month, and from one year to the next.

It’s challenging, and it’s exhilarating. And when you get it right, there’s no job like it.

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Filed under Direct mail fundraising, Email fundraising, Online fundraising, Telephone fundraising, University fundraising

Yeah, if you could just…

It’s quite common, particularly in university fundraising in the US (and to a certain extent in the UK) to see a fundraising appeal at this time of year that is basically this:


I’ve never really got it, and I’m not sure that donors get it either. What’s the point for them about your fiscal year per se?

Unless it’s the date by which you know how much money you have for scholarships? In which case, why not say that instead?

Deadlines work in fundraising, for sure. But only deadlines that a donor might conceivably care about, surely.

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Filed under Fundraising, University fundraising

Ben the Blue Pirate and his magic mirror


My son Joe is a nostalgic 12 year old. Every couple of years he goes back over his life – school reports and photo albums, back to when he was a baby. It’s a little ritual for him.

I was talking with my partner about it last night, and the thought popped into my head, “when he knows where he’s come from, it helps him understand where he needs to go next”.

That’s an idea that’s stuck in my mind since I was a child myself, and learning to read with Griffin’s ‘Pirate Reader’ series – does anyone remember it? There were three pirates – Roderick the Red, Gregory the Green, and Ben the Blue. The thoughtful Ben turned out to be the hero of the series.

Ben had a magic mirror. It always showed him exactly where he had been. If Ben was lost, he would look in his mirror, back over his journeys, and then he would know where to go next.

Mark Phillips’ collection of old fundraising adverts on Pinterest reminds me of Ben’s mirror.

Look over these adverts – from the YMCA and Barnardo’s at the turn of the 20th century to adverts from Oxfam and Amnesty in the 70s and 80s, and you can see just how long a journey we’ve been on as fundraisers. And what strikes me so strongly – from ads that are more than 100 years old – is that our fundraising forebears knew their craft supremely well.

I’ve seen it myself closer to home, looking back over the historic donations to the university I work for – which ran public appeals at the turn of the 20th century that raised tens of millions in today’s money. My predecessors knew their stuff!

I want to find their old appeals for Leeds now because I know when I see them, I’ll know much more clearly where I need to go next. Why not have a look at Mark’s board and then back into your charity’s ‘magic mirror’ and see if it helps you feel that way, too…

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Filed under Fundraising, Universities, University fundraising

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!

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Filed under Fundraising, Universities, University fundraising

Friday 22nd July – please support your university today!

It’s Friday 22nd July and it’s a red letter day for universities. But you probably won’t have heard much about it in the papers. On July 31st, the Government’s Matched Funding Scheme for Universities comes to an end. It’s a scheme designed to encourage university graduates, like me (and perhaps you), to make charitable gifts to our alma maters. The Government will match every gift given by at least one third, including the Gift Aid the university reclaims on it. The total pot available from the Government is £200 million, but it requires universities to raise the donations to unlock it.

So you probably have two questions now – why’s today the red letter day, and why should I, of all people, give a gift to my university?

I’ll answer the easy one first. Today’s the red letter day because to claim the matched funding they’re entitled to – up to £2.75 million in some cases – universities have to show the Government that the donations have reached their bank accounts by July 31st. Given the amount of time it takes for cheques to clear and online gifts to be transferred, today is the last day you can make a donation, online or by post, to your old university and be sure of them receiving their share of the Government match for it.

So that’s the easy one answered. Now for your second question – why should you give a gift to your old university? I’ll try to give you a couple of reasons.

  1. Your university is a charity. It does work that’s been recognised to have a charitable purpose since the 17th century – the advancement of knowledge and learning. Universities have always relied on charitable donations to fund the very core of their work. And many, many of the UK’s best-known charities rely on the work of universities to carry out their own work.
  2. You’ll know exactly how your money has been spent. Universities, believe it or not, are some of the best charities in the country at telling you how they’ve used your donations. There’s a myth that it all ‘goes into the Vice-Chancellor’s pocket’ or into admin, and that’s just not true. Depending on how your university uses its donations, your gift could be funding world-changing research, or enabling students from families with no history of university attendance to take their first steps towards a world of knowledge, skills and service to society.
  3. Since the Second World War, we’ve had a proud tradition in this country of making access to higher education, and all the good that it can achieve, dependent purely on ability to learn and not ability to pay. Making a gift to your University’s ‘Annual Fund’ is one of the very best ways that you can help ensure that tradition is still something we can be proud of years into the future.
  4. The last one is really simple. Take a look at what you’re doing now in your career, or the way you think about the world around you, or the friends that mean the most to you in your life. How much of that might you have had if you hadn’t been to university and had the life-changing experience it offers you? I’d say it was a pearl beyond all price.

So today, why not recognise this, in however large or small a way you choose, with a donation to your university? Last year 186,000 graduates made gifts to their old institutions. That may sound like a lot, but it’s only 2 people for every 100 of us who’ve ever graduated from these great institutions of ours. Surely we value them more than that?

So I’ve made a list of all the UK universities’ online donation pages. The ones in England will benefit from the Matched Funding – do definitely find yours and give what you can today. And, if you went to a Scottish or Welsh university, and my words have resonated with you – well, why should they miss out?

G K Chesterton said, “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.” And in that case I know of no places with more soul than our amazing universities. Let’s honour them and help them today.

Thank you for reading and please click through


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Filed under Fundraising, Universities, University fundraising

Would an online donor list prompt you to support the cause?

I’ve just been looking at the University of Birmingham’s online donor list. It looks really nice – you can search for your year of graduation and see how many of your friends may or may not be supporting the University:



And it’s prompted a debate between me and my colleague – would seeing a list like this influence you to give?

What do you think – yes or no?

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Filed under Fundraising, Online fundraising, University fundraising