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CASE Europe: Ethical Principles Behind the Acceptance of Gifts

Guidelines for UK Higher Education Institutions

Developed with the Ross and 1994 Groups of Development Directors

As charitable entities whose work brings direct public benefit to the UK and the rest of the world, universities in the UK take pride in seeking gift income from UK and internationally-based donors. More than 185,000 donors made gifts totalling over £500m to UK universities in 2009/10 to support the role of higher education and research in opening doors to education; in fostering just, sustainable and civil societies; and in seeking solutions to many of the world's most pressing problems. This support also plays an increasingly important part in helping to maintain the UK higher education sector's global reputation for excellence.

The development of this vital income stream needs to be guided by clear policies and procedures with regard to the criteria that determine whether any particular gift or donor should be accepted. As independent institutions, it is right that each university makes its own decisions in this area in the light of its own circumstances.

Universities with well-established professional fundraising functions have been taking these issues seriously over time. With the growth in the scale of, importance of, and public interest in philanthropy across the UK university sector in recent years, CASE Europe, the Ross Group and the 1994 Group of Development Directors came together to review practice in gift acceptance. As a result, a set of core principles were identified which all universities might helpfully consider as they develop, or fine tune, criteria and processes to reflect their particular structures and priorities.

The 10 principles are:

  1. Universities should seek philanthropic support which is aligned with their values, strategic goals and financial needs, as a legitimate, sustained and vital component of their income.
  2. Ethical guidelines for the acceptance of such gifts in any institution should be available in the public domain.
  3. Impartial, independent research, scholarship and teaching are the basis for the furtherance of knowledge. Universities should not accept philanthropic gifts if this is not clearly understood and accepted by all parties.
  4. Universities are charitable bodies and must observe the requirements of charity law and other relevant legislation in relation to the receipt and expenditure of funds. Ultimate responsibility regarding the acceptance and refusal of donations rests with the governing body of each university.
  5. Where the authority for the acceptance of donations is delegated to the Vice-Chancellor and other senior academics or officers, that authority should be explicit and the responsibility of those accepting gifts to implement the institution's detailed ethical policies and procedures on donations must be clearly understood and consistently applied.
  6. Universities should take all reasonable steps to ensure that they are aware of the source of funding for each gift, and have processes in place to satisfy themselves that the funds do not derive from activity that was or is illegal, or runs counter to the core values of impartial, independent research, scholarship and teaching.
  7. Discussions with potential donors that are likely to give rise to significant public interest, or which raise complex questions with regard to acceptability, should be considered at the earliest stage possible by the appropriate decision makers who should be fully informed of the purpose and the background to the donation and the source of funds.
  8. The legal and reputational rights of potential donors should also be considered as part of any due diligence undertaken in assessing the acceptability of a proposed donation. In this regard, a clear distinction should be drawn between rumour or speculation and matters of confirmed fact or legal finding, whilst also accepting that institutions may wish to consider the reputational risks that could be incurred through public perception of any particular donor.
  9. Donors must accept and, for significant gifts (as determined by individual institutions), sign appropriate gift agreements to confirm that the management and governance of programmes funded through benefaction rest solely with the university. Individual institutions typically choose, without undermining this core principle, to offer donors opportunities for continuing engagement with the activities that they have funded. Universities should employ their standard procedures relating to recruitment, admissions, hiring, promotion, procurement, management and governance for all research, teaching, outreach, capital development, or student scholarship programmes funded by gifts.
  10. Universities should have procedures in place for reviewing and reconsidering previous decisions taken in good faith relating to the acceptance of particular gifts if subsequent events or the subsequent availability of additional information require it. The response to such circumstances should be transparent and proportionate to the particular circumstances that have arisen.

Last updated: 20 Sept. 2011

CASE is an international membership organisation headquartered in Washington, D.C., that provides professional support to advancement professionals in education (advancement covers: marketing, communication, fundraising and alumni relations). CASE Europe is based in London and includes 144 UK higher education institutions amongst its membership.

The Ross Group is a network of leading development directors working in higher education (HE). It works closely with CASE - the Council for Advancement and Support of Education - and is the developer of the Ross-CASE Survey of Fundraising which is published annually and is the most comprehensive source of information about fundraising trends in UK higher education.

The 1994 Group of Development Directors is a network of leading development directors representing institutions in the 1994 Group and other invited fundraising professionals from within the UK HE sector.

Members of the Ross and 1994 Groups of Development Directors comprise senior fundraising professionals at the following institutions: University of Bath, Birkbeck, University of London, University of Birmingham, University of Brighton, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, Durham University, University of East Anglia, University of Edinburgh, University of Essex, University of Exeter, University of Glasgow, Goldsmiths, University of London, Institute of Education, University of London, King's College London, Lancaster University, University of Leeds, University of Leicester, London Business School, London School of Economics, Loughborough University, University of Manchester, University of Newcastle, University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, Queen Mary, University of London, Queen's University Belfast, University of Reading, Royal Holloway, University of London, University of St Andrews, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of Sheffield, University of Southampton, Strathclyde University, University of Surrey, University of Sussex, University College London, University of Warwick and University of York.