Universities raise their investment in fundraising

Universities in Australia and New Zealand are investing more in their advancement operations – specifically fundraising and alumni engagement – amid growing institutional awareness of the “powerful impact” of philanthropy, according to a new report.

The Charitable Giving to Universities in Australia and New Zealand Survey report reveals that surveyed institutions increased their overall investment in fundraising and alumni relations by 11% and 15% respectively, in 2016 over 2015.

In addition, these institutions increased fundraising staff from 418 in 2015 to 450 in 2016, an increase of 8%.

Alumni relations staff numbers grew slightly from 247 in 2015 to 252 in 2016.

Growing investment in fundraising and alumni relations operations is one of several trends highlighted in the new report, which is published by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education or CASE.

The report also notes the continual growth of philanthropic giving in 2016 among the surveyed institutions, which includes the Group of Eight or Go8, which are the leading research universities in Australia, and other institutions. Notably, annual fund income secured increased by 55% at non-Go8 institutions from 2015 to 2016.

Go8 institutions saw a significant rise in the value of large gifts and pledges with a 47% increase from 2015 to 2016 in the amount of the largest pledge secured and an 83% increase in the amount of the largest cash gift received.

Institutions also recorded a peak in the total number of donors and alumni donors, reaching 66,007 and 34,507 respectively, in 2016.

Tricia King, vice-president of global engagement for CASE, said: “This year’s philanthropic giving to higher education in Australia and New Zealand is outstanding. From what we can see, institutions are increasing their investment in and understanding of philanthropy to great effect.”

CASE has a partnership with Universities Australia, the vice-chancellors’ body, and develops programmes for senior academic leaders and professionals working in the field.

Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia, said: “The excellent results in the report demonstrate the high standard of advancement and development professionals working in Australian universities.”

However, the global figures for 2016 show slower acceleration in philanthropic giving overall compared with increases between 2014 and 2015.

Annual fund income secured rose from AU$11.6 million (US$9.2 million) in 2014 to AU$13.4 million (US$10.6 million) in 2015 and AU$14 million (US$11 million) in 2016. Similarly, the number of total donors jumped from 50,923 in 2014 to 60,853 in 2015 and 66,007 in 2016. And the number of cash gifts of AU$1 million or more rose from 47 in 2014 to 72 in 2015 and 76 in 2016.

The report highlights trends in philanthropic giving within the higher education sector based on analysis of data collected from 24 institutions in Australia and one institution in New Zealand over three years (2014, 2015 and 2016).

Strong growth in major giving

Tim Dolan, vice principal (advancement) of the University of Sydney, and chair of the Committee of Chief Advancement Officers of the Group of Eight and friends, said: “The strong growth in major giving has helped drive the acceleration of philanthropic revenue.

"They have raised the confidence of institutional leadership both in what universities can achieve in partnership with their donors and in the ability of their advancement professionals to support and sustain those key relationships.”

In Australia and New Zealand 25 institutions – the highest number yet – now have professional advancement offices, “each growing in maturity and all committed to high levels of accountability,” Dolan said.

“One of the invigorating trends is the willingness of donors, both at home and internationally, to make exceptional gifts to Australasian universities,” he added in his foreword to the report. “In my experience they often do so because of the universities’ ability to tackle some of the biggest and most complex problems in a troubled world, in such areas as health, the environment and social justice.”

The acceleration of philanthropic revenue had been fuelled in part by the launching of high-profile campaigns by several universities, including Auckland in New Zealand and Melbourne, Sydney and Victoria in Australia, he said.

“The announcement of an aspirational target, for which the university will be answerable, the input from sound consultancy advice, and the sense of shared endeavour within the institution can combine to fast-track the practical experience of advancement of staff, the satisfaction donors take in the impact of their giving and the essential engagement of key academics with the process,” Dolan said.

However, he voiced frustration that one of the constraints on momentum – the ability to attract talented and experienced advancement staff, not just frontline fundraisers but development service professionals as well – has just become more restrictive.

He said the tightening of regulations for 457 visas in Australia is a “real threat to our ability to attract and retain talented international professionals”.

This is the fifth year of the Charitable Giving to Universities in Australia and New Zealand Survey. Next year’s survey is scheduled to be administered in the first half of 2018.

Sue Cunningham, president and CEO of CASE, said: “Philanthropic engagement and support offers significant opportunities for the sector to develop and strengthen university teaching and research. It is critical that we can track and analyse the outcomes to provide insights and learning into best practice for the broader educational community.”