In the context of recent strikes over pension cuts and concern that Brexit will decrease the number of foreign students choosing to study in the UK, it’s clear to any intelligent observer that the university sector is struggling. With only a limited amount of money available from the government and through fees, it’s vital that they find ways to fill the gap, and that is where fundraising initiatives come in.
How universities raise money
There are all sorts of ways that universities raise money, but the largest single set of donors usually consists of alumni – people who feel they have benefited from their experience there and want to help the next generation of students. Also prominent are local business people keen to have their names or the names of their companies associated with the university. The parents of current students often contribute donations alongside fees where they are able. Successfully soliciting money from these different groups requires an ongoing process of networking, with many universities running special events focused on fundraisers. Today, however, much fundraising is also done online, where impulsive decisions can result in great benefits. The National Funding Scheme helps donors to give money in an instant, wherever they are, through a wide range of devices. As government funding falls in real terms, philanthropic donations have been rising year on year.
Most fundraisers are not interested in supporting the day to day running of a university but want, instead, to see concrete results when they donate. One way to achieve this is to funnel their money directly into updating facilities, so they can feel rewarded when they see students using the latest technology to do their work. Upgrades in science and engineering departments can be associated with the thrill of discoveries, and donors can be offered the chance to tour areas like libraries where new computers have been installed.
Older universities may be able to use their elegant architecture as a selling point but looking after all those historic buildings can be a real challenge. Still, there’s nothing like a named stone as evidence of generosity, so donors are often keen to fund restoration work. Adding plaques or even renaming buildings is a means of commemorating this, and it can also generate positive media coverage. Meanwhile, as buildings make an impression on the public from the outside, improved interiors mean easier access and better conditions for students.
Funding individual research projects is an attractive pitch because it sometimes generates world-changing results. In other cases, philanthropists are happy to be remembered as having done their bit to fight disease or aid some other worthy cause even if there is no simple, clearly defined near-term conclusion to the projects to which they invest. To attract this kind of funding, universities need to identify appealing projects and provide clear, easily digested information about them, explaining how more money can help.
Would you like to put on an exhibition in support of creative talent at your university, or invite a special guest speaker to inspire students? Donors are often attracted to the idea of supporting special events like these, and they provide an interim level goal that’s accessible to well-intentioned people without unusually large fortunes. Supporting guest lectures by celebrated academics or public figures can be a useful way for companies to associate their brands with those people and boost their reputations.
Many philanthropists are interested in directly supporting students, especially when they can see that by doing so they are helping disadvantaged individuals to get more out of the university experience, or to attend university at all. You can invite them to support projects aimed at improving access for disabled students, creating low-cost accommodation for those from poor backgrounds or providing scholarships for talented student who would not otherwise be able to bear the cost of study.
The additional benefits of fundraising
In addition to providing all these concrete benefits, fundraising helps to cement relationships between universities and influential figures who can help in many other ways, for instance by exerting political influence in support of university concerns or by mentoring graduates as they move into the world of work. It helps to connect universities with local and international communities, enriching the cultural experience they can offer to students.
If you’re working on raising funds for your university, recognising the benefits can make it a lot easier to be persistent when not everybody is willing to accept your pitch. This is a long-term process, and it’s one that can bring a great many benefits.