Category Archives: Universities

Posts about universities and higher education in general

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

What good is a degree?

Another article published, suggesting that since recent graduates are earning less than their predecessors, and many are employed in jobs that do not require graduate skills, that the value of a degree is somehow called into question. This makes me sad.

I have always found it hard to sympathise with the purely instrumental argument around education – at whatever stage. Do we think we are purely educating our future generations for the benefit of as yet unknown future employers? I would hate to think that – that the entire purpose of years spent studying in the sciences, social sciences and humanities was simply so that someone could write a better memo, chair a better meeting, or turn in a better argued and referenced marketing plan. What a hollow world results from that conclusion.

Of course some degrees are professional and vocational and comprise the body of knowledge required to be a doctor, teacher or engineer, among many other professions. This we know.

But education is vastly more than that. G K Chesterton memorably described it as, “simply the soul of a society passed from one generation to the next.”

If we take such an instrumental view, what then is our society’s soul? It would look to me like the misshapen, pitiful remnant of Voldemort left on the platform of the imaginary King’s Cross station at the end of the Harry Potter stories, for which Dumbledore sorrowfully says nothing more can be done. A soul without wonder, without curiosity and without love – in this case the love of knowledge and learning that is our true human heritage and birthright.

If anything distinguishes us as human beings it is not our better mating or survival strategies compared to other species. It is that, as far as we currently know, we are alone in the animal kingdom in our quest to know and understand our universe – both outer and inner – and pass that knowledge and understanding on. It is a fundamental human heritage, and to my mind a fundamental human right that we should all have the opportunity to access that treasure of learning and questioning.

Yes, we need physical food and shelter and basic security. But we also need mental food, safe places for wherever inquiry may lead, and the opportunity to be amazed, awed and moved by art, by science and by the intricacy and contradictoriness of our own natures as social beings.

That is the true value of a degree. As a society we should be prepared to invest in all levels of education, not for any sense of immediate financial return, but for the return to our society’s soul – however you may care to define it. And it should be open to all and any who can benefit from it.

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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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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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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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Donations to Universities in the news again

This article got published in the Times on Friday (behind the pay wall)

I’ll quote a couple of sentences (my italics), “Hard-up universities are aiming to raise billions of pounds in the next few years by seducing their alumni into donating to US-style fundraising campaigns…”

“Students starting university this term face being lobbied for donations as soon as they graduate..”

It’s interesting the language that gets used when discussing charitable donations to universities, isn’t it? ‘Seducing’, ‘lobbying’, both pretty double-edged words! Has Oxfam ‘seduced’ its hundreds of thousands of donors? Or Save the Children? Of course not. They’ve invited people who care deeply about their mission to join them and help to make a difference, and those people have responded.

Well, as a member of a university fundraising team, working for a university that is a charity in totally the same way as the two famous charities I’ve mentioned above, that’s no different to what I and my colleagues do every day. And we shouldn’t forget that the vast majority of our alumni donors are by no means billionaires, but ‘ordinary’ people like you or me, who feel a deep gratitude for having had the opportunity to access all the treasures of higher education pretty much for free, and feel passionately that that opportunity mustn’t be denied to the generations who come after us.

Facilities and research are undoubtedly hugely important, but that shouldn’t mean that giving back to universities is just seen as the preserve of the mega-rich. All of us who are graduates can do our part to ensure that access to our universities remains possible for all, by giving small monthly amounts – often no more than the cost of a daily paper like the Times, Telegraph or Guardian each week. And with all those modest gifts we can provide tens, no, hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of scholarship provision, to ensure that future students don’t have to worry about which university they can afford, but can go to the very best one they can aspire to.

That’s why I do what I do, and I believe in it whole-heartedly.

The other day I spoke to one of my alumni donors who called in to enquire about her regular gift. When I checked her details I found that she had two gifts coming out each month and I asked if we’d by any chance made a mistake? She said no, that was entirely what she’d intended. But she wasn’t calling to ask about those two, but another, joint gift, she and her husband were making! It had stopped and she wanted to restart and increase it, having heard the news about the CSR.

When I’d got all the details straight, I said to her, “You’re doing an awful lot for us, Mrs X,” because I didn’t see anything to suggest that she or her husband were hugely well-off. She replied that she felt it was the very least they could do to acknowledge the huge difference their time at university had made to them.

There’s a ‘Giving something back’ article on the Times from the same day – the call-out boxes from the printed version of the article, I think. Have a look at those and if you feel the same way, find your university’s alumni webpage (there are some handy links here ) and sign up to a gift of a few pounds each month. You’ll be helping to change lives, and, until the end of July, the Government will match your donation, making it worth even more.

Education is priceless – let’s do all we can to make sure anyone who can benefit from it, does so. And let’s help keep our universities the pride of the world.

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Why not give back to your Uni this Charity Tuesday?

It’s Charity Tuesday on Twitter today. If you’re a university graduate why not take a couple of minutes online today to give back?

Here’s a list of all the University online giving pages I could find for you

If you benefited from your time at uni – in whatever way – and you believe that the advancement of education and knowledge can be a massive driver of global social change, do support your University in their missions!

Universities generally don’t receive the majority of their funding from the Government any more – the direct amount the university I work at receives is only around a third of its turnover. And the support we could receive from alumni, even if only one in ten of our graduates were to give, would be truly transformative in terms of what we could achieve.

An active and engaged alumni community supporting their institutions has the potential to be a massive driver of change.

You can choose to direct your support towards your uni’s research and knowledge activity, or to support the experience of those who come as students, and who could go on to make significant individual contributions in all areas of global society, whether locally or on a wider scale. You could be helping someone to come or to stay, who wouldn’t be able to do so otherwise.

I firmly believe we should aim to make university education a right for as many people as we can manage – and we won’t be able to do that without your philanthropic support.

You can find a list of universities with online donation pages here. Do find your uni, click, and give – and thank you!

Adrian Salmon

PS Many universities will be able to count your gift as part of a new Matched Funding scheme. That means that your gift, plus Gift Aid, could become worth at least double. So even a small gift will go a lot further than you think…

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