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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 1.4


Common Objections and Their Rebuttals

The culture of philanthropy in higher education is still maturing in many countries, but some people maintain reservations about its appropriateness and value for the sector. Here are some common concerns and how they might be addressed.

Surely it is the government’s role to fund higher education.

Higher education has always been funded from a variety of sources: government, industry, student fees, commercial activities and philanthropy all play a part. Philanthropy in higher education is not new; indeed, many universities were founded on the philanthropy of education visionaries.

Yes, governments have a continuing role, but it is unwise to ignore the additional funding that can be secured. This additional income enables higher education to achieve great things both in education and in research that make a difference to the lives of us all.

Philanthropic income is not a replacement for government investment but an additional force for good. One U.S. public university states it succinctly: ‘Fundraising enables us to provide the taxpayer with a better university than they could otherwise afford’.

Isn’t fundraising just another form of begging?

It is misguided to equate fundraising in higher education with holding out a begging bowl. Begging is born of desperation and poverty in the recipient, prompting pity in the giver. Fundraising, by contrast, emanates from a position of strength, vision and aspiration in the asker, which is matched with passion on the part of the giver.

A good fundraising experience is one that benefits both the recipient and the donor. The recipient receives the funds needed to achieve its institutional goals, and the donor gets a sense of satisfaction from doing something good and the chance to further a cause in which he believes.

Fundraising partnerships tend to be long-lasting and aimed at achieving jointly held goals. A donor who wishes to see the suffering of cancer patients alleviated will take great satisfaction in donating to a research programme that is designed to achieve that goal. The donor has the capacity to give; the recipient has the expertise to fulfill the donor’s desire to help cancer sufferers. This is not begging: it is a mutually beneficial arrangement. ‘Begging’ must be treated like a four-letter word. Banish it from your institution.

We will never make enough money to cover our fundraising costs, let alone make a difference to the institution.

Since it began in 2001, the UK-based Ross-CASE Survey has shown an increase in both the number of donor numbers and the value of their gifts. In 2010–2011, the survey showed that:

  • Cash income received by universities in 2010–11 increased by £43 million (from £517 million to £560 million),
  • New funds secured (new cash gifts, pledges and gifts in-kind) increased from £608 million to £693 million and
  • The number of donors reached an all-time high of 204,250 (up from 184,945 in 2009/2010).

Yes, fundraising has costs associated with it, and an effective development office needs to be properly resourced. However, the median cost per pound of funds raised is actually decreasing as higher education institutes successfully demonstrate to donors that they are a worthwhile cause. For example:

  • In 2007–2008, the median cost per £1 raised was £0.32.
  • This fell to £0.27 in 2008–2009, and again, to £0.22, in 2009–2010.
  • That cost was maintained at £0.22 in 2010–2011.

The money raised for higher education has funded buildings, scholarships, research, academic staff, student experience projects, environmental projects and countless other innovative projects. The income vastly outweighed the costs, and the difference it made was significant.

Not only do donors come with much-needed funds, they also bring their personal support, access to their professional and social networks and an enthusiasm for the goals of higher education that enriches the sector.

Higher education isn’t a ‘cause’.

Some would argue that higher education is not a ‘cause’ as it does not distribute food to the needy or offer protection to the vulnerable, but a ‘cause’ can be thought of in a more complex way.

  • Higher education is important to the health and prosperity of the world.
  • Its institutions educate people who will leave to become engineers, teachers, doctors and other professionals whose work will make a difference to the lives of many.
  • These institutions also provide the research to support everything from medical breakthroughs to the discovery of new energy sources.
  • Higher education enriches our cultural and artistic lives.
  • Most of the world’s significant innovations can be traced back to a university.
  • Finally, higher education asks questions of governments, industries and other powerful bodies, examining their effectiveness, veracity and purpose and challenging them to always do better.

Higher education is a force for good on so many fronts that it is not just one ‘cause’ but many, and people who are asked to support it should see their donations, not as an act of charity, but as an act of philanthropy.

This may work for elite institutions in the United States, but not here.

When UK universities started to invest in fundraising, many people within academia doubted that it would work. It was common to hear people complain, ‘This is not America, you know! It may work in the United States, but not here in the UK’.

Today, most UK universities have a development office, and those that have invested in this effort properly over a number of years are proving to be very successful.

It is now common to hear people in other countries say, ‘It may work in the UK, but it can’t work here’. With courage, conviction and creativity, universities around the world are now demonstrating that with just a little adaptation, fundraising can work in their context, too.

We don’t have a culture of giving.

 Similarly, it is common to hear people complain that there is ‘no culture of giving’ in their country. There are very few places in the world where this statement is entirely true. What is often actually meant, and what may be true, is that there is no culture of giving to education.

Professor Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, chaired the UK Government’s Task Force on Increasing Voluntary Giving to Higher Education. He and his colleagues encountered this view repeatedly during their research. However, in the task force’s 2004 report, Thomas noted that the underlying issue was that within many universities, there was no culture of asking.

The Ross-CASE survey has charted year-on-year rises in the total number of donors making a gift to a UK university. As universities become more skilled in asking for gifts, a culture of giving to education is now beginning to emerge.

My gift is too small to make a difference.

When hearing about very large gifts to an institution or large fundraising targets for capital projects, some people might feel that the modest level at which they can make a gift is insignificant and can’t possibly make a difference.

 It is important to emphasise that every gift is important and valued and to find opportunities for gifts at all levels to make a tangible difference. Smaller gifts are often directed at things like scholarships, student support, books for the library and so on, which are not commonly funded by large gifts. When used in this way, even small gifts make a positive impact.

This concern for the significance of one’s own personal giving can also be turned into a positive response by suggesting that the individual ask friends and former classmates to join him or her in supporting the institution and that together they can achieve something quite remarkable.

Action Items
  • List the concerns you think you might encounter in your own context and prepare your rebuttals.
  • Make sure you share your list with senior colleagues and others involved in development that might also be questioned about your institution’s commitment to development.

You Might Also Want to Read:

The value of fundraising in an educational context
Reasonable expectations
ROI: The level of returns that can be expected
Championing the office internally

Henrik Pompeius, head of development at Stockholm University, talks about how to respond to donor tax questions and make the case for giving.
Eric Thomas, president and vice chancellor at the University of Bristol, discusses key messages development professionals need to communicate to vice-chancellors.
McCallum describes key performance indicators that lead to giving, and how that informs his institution's cultivation model.