Funding the Future
Midway through her graduate work in comparative social policy at the University of Oxford, Anh Nguyen began to panic. Her father had just called, saying that after years of his paying her tuition, she would be on her own after completing her degree.
The next day, she spent nine hours honing an application to work at Barclays Bank and hit the submit button. By 9 a.m. the following day, she had her first rejection. During the financial crisis of 2008, she was finding it hard to get her foot in the door anywhere and still wasn’t quite sure what career path to take.
“I had to act quickly and thought that the most effective thing to do was cast my net far and wide,” recalls Nguyen, who uploaded her CV to the website of The Guardian. A couple of days later, she got a call asking if she had considered a job in university fundraising.
While her answer was “not really,” Nguyen was intrigued by the new CASE Europe Graduate Trainee Scheme, a yearlong program that immerses recent graduates in the fundamentals of fundraising. She took part in the program and has stayed in the nonprofit development realm ever since.
The paid trainee program is now celebrating its 10th anniversary and has launched the advancement careers of nearly 100 young adults, who work primarily with host universities in the United Kingdom during their traineeships.
When Nguyen was at the University of Oxford, CASE President and CEO Sue Cunningham served as director of development there and assisted in creating the trainee scheme.
“I was mindful of the fact that hiring people into our profession was really hard,” Cunningham recalls. “There was really significant potential in educational institutions to build new revenue through philanthropy—but there simply weren’t the people to do it.”
Unlike in the United States, higher education fundraising in the U.K.—for everything from scholarships for disadvantaged students to cutting-edge cancer research—had been on the back burner for decades. The culture of philanthropy that existed in England before World War II began to erode as the government became the primary funder of universities amid an influx of students seeking college degrees.
University tuition was eliminated in the U.K. in 1962, but fees were reintroduced in 1998 to help rein in steadily mounting costs for cash-strapped governments. That year, university students paid £1,000, which rose to £3,000 by 2004 and is £9,250 today (about US$12,000). Students in other European countries have also felt the pinch as tuition rises.
With less revenue coming from government sources, many universities are seeking to enlarge their development departments, and they seem to be making headway. According to the annual Ross-CASE Survey about higher education fundraising in the U.K., philanthropic giving to U.K. higher education institutions totaled £1.08 billion ($1.31 billion) in 2017–18. This is the highest total reported by the survey since it began in 2002. The total number of donors increased by 2% since 2016–17.
Graduate trainees may have had something to do with that trend. They work within each area of the development office of an educational institution, gaining experience and developing skills in alumni relations, prospect management, annual giving, stewardship, fundraising campaigns, major gifts, events, and partnerships. The breadth of the experience provides graduates with a fully rounded view of fundraising within education and the role it plays in supporting the institutions.
Early in her college career, Nguyen once joked with girlfriends that she’d throw great fundraising dinners later in life because she had to attend so many formal dinners. Was it intuition?
After Nguyen completed her trainee year at Oxford, she took a job at the university in the newly created role of fundraising programs officer for social sciences, which dovetailed well with her academic work. Two years later, she became major gifts officer at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at Oxford, the oldest public museum in the world, dating back to 1683. While there, she raised £10 million ($13 million) for the museum’s endowment campaign and exhibition programs.
“It was when I was at Ashmolean and fundraising for the arts that I felt at home and felt it suited to my personality the most,” she says.
Today at Serpentine Galleries, she champions new ideas in contemporary art, leading a team of 15 to bring in £9 million ($11.7 million) a year. One of the galleries’ high-profile fundraising campaigns commissions a landmark building by an internationally acclaimed architect each year. The pavilion on display this summer and fall, by Japanese architect Junya Ishigami, was made by arranging slates to create a sloping canopy roof that appears to emerge from the ground of the gallery’s surrounding park. The Serpentine Pavilion attracts up to 300,000 visitors annually and is one of the 10 most visited architectural and design exhibitions in the world.
Nguyen’s advice to those not sure if they want to pursue a career in fundraising: “It takes a village to bring in a gift, so maybe while you may not have the temperament to specialize in major gifts, your more analytical and research mind would be indispensable on the research team. Before you can ask for a gift, you have to find the right prospect.”
During the 50-week placement, they also spend one month at another university to give them a broader perspective. Each trainee receives a mentor, along with networking opportunities and online resources such as the CASE Europe Graduate Trainee LinkedIn group. Trainees also attend several CASE events, including the CASE Europe Annual Conference and the Spring Institute in Educational Fundraising.
The host institution determines a trainee’s salary based on its own pay structure. Annual salaries are approximately £18,000–£20,000 ($23,460–$26,000) for those placed outside London, and £20,000–£24,000 ($26,000–$31,280) in the city.
Cunningham is enthusiastic about her continuing work with the trainees: “Of all the things I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure of engaging with at CASE, these programs give me inordinate joy. Whenever I have the chance to be with our resident trainees in different parts of the world—and I make a point of ensuring I do meet with them—I find they are bright, engaged, impressive people whom I look forward to seeing be incredibly successful in their careers and take our profession to the next step.”
Cunningham points to two similar, newer CASE programs that train recent graduates in fundraising. The North America Fundraising Residency Program, now in its second year of placing trainees in colleges across the United States and Canada for 50 weeks, is leading the way in increasing the diversity of advancement professionals in higher education. The Asia-Pacific Graduate Trainee Programme places recent graduates in major cities across Australia to immerse them in careers in development.
Back in the U.K., TJ Rawlinson and Greg Spencer have helped steer a number of trainees to fundraising careers at their institutions. They both moved from England’s University of Bristol to Cardiff University in Wales and continued to take new trainees under their wings.
At Bristol, five trainees went on to higher education fundraising careers. While there doesn’t seem to be a common major among trainees, many have been university telethon callers while students.
“Because we send our trainees out to meet alumni and to ask for £1,000 gifts very early on, they need to be willing to ask without apologizing, and then to listen effectively. So the best trainees have the ability to see every person they meet—however senior and influential—as an interesting and delightful person to get to know and understand,” says Rawlinson, who is director of development and alumni relations at Cardiff University. She is also a CASE Europe trustee and Ross-CASE advisory board member.
Until he and his sister went to college, no one in Lawless’s extended family had continued in school past the age of 16. He got his bachelor’s degree in education studies and is now nearing completion of a master’s in higher education studies, but he says his roots have shaped the work he does today.
“Being multiracial and from a working-class background, diversity and inclusion are naturally important topics for me, both inside and outside of my profession,” he says. “Therefore, the projects that help to raise the aspirations and attainment of disadvantaged young people are particularly important to me.”
After his traineeship at the University of Bristol, Lawless was hired there as a development manager, where he focused on securing five-figure gifts for a wide variety of university priorities. Now at Oxford, he’s responsible for securing major gifts for programs related to supporting students and widening access to the university for a diversity of students. One program Lawless is particularly proud of helps students of African and Caribbean descent reach leading universities.
“Everything I do focuses on either making Oxford more diverse or ensuring that the world’s brightest minds have the opportunity to study in an environment that will allow them to thrive,” he says.
Next up? Lawless has just been tapped to spend a year in Oxford’s Hong Kong office to work with some of Hong Kong’s and southern China’s most prominent philanthropists.
One former Bristol trainee moved on to fundraising at another university before becoming a senior fundraiser at a mental health research charity. She was recently named one of Fundraising Magazine’s 25 best fundraisers under age 35.
Spencer, who is deputy director of development at Cardiff and serves as a mentor to trainees, says one of the most important qualities in a trainee is “a recognition of fundraising as a real career track. There’s also nothing wrong with a dose of enthusiasm and willingness to operate with a ‘can do’ attitude.”
But some trainees find that fundraising is just not the career for them. One of Spencer’s trainees moved into communications, while another pivoted even farther afield to become a police officer.
Adrian Punaks, executive director of development at University College London, which has hosted 12 trainees over the years, agrees that the job has to be the right fit. Although trainees come from diverse backgrounds, they have some common characteristics: “They are good at building relationships, they are inquisitive and interested, and individuals who are interesting themselves tend to do well. These are people who genuinely want to make a difference in the power and reach of higher education and research.”
“The benefits [of the Graduate Trainee Scheme] are already tangible today, 10 years in. Imagine what it might be like 20 or 30 years in. I like to think about what will happen, how amazing it will be when some of them are at the very top of some of the world’s very best universities,” said Punaks, who is chair of CASE’s Spring Institute in Educational Fundraising and served for three years as co-chair of the fundraising track at the CASE Europe Annual Conference.
Beyond U.K. Universities
Higher education institutions are not the only organizations taking advantage of the Graduate Trainee Scheme. After working with trainees as director of development at the University of Surrey, Chris Gethin introduced the scheme to his new employer, nonprofit Cancer Research UK, where he is director of philanthropy and campaign.
Although Cancer Research UK was receiving many small donations, it had not yet developed a major gifts program, and Gethin hoped to build on the successful track record of trainees at the University of Surrey to help kick-start that work.
“We naturally looked to higher education as a sector that had been very, very successful in fundraising,” says Gethin, whose organization is the world’s second-highest funder of cancer research, after the U.S. government. Cancer Research UK is using funds raised for such projects as developing a breath test to detect cancer and determining whether aspirin can prevent the disease.
Recently, Gethin’s trainee closed a £15,000 (about $19,600) gift from someone she met at an event who had never before donated to Cancer Research UK. Earlier, one of his trainees at the University of Surrey created a social media program to interact with donors, and another worked on a study about how the university was interacting with the community and how it could engage more.
As a literature and Italian major in college, not only had Rivett not considered a career in higher education fundraising, but she says she wasn’t even aware that universities did fundraising.
While searching for an events or communications job, Rivett stumbled across an ad for the CASE trainee program on the website of The Guardian, applied, and was accepted as a trainee at King’s College London, which has about 26,000 students from 150 countries.
Rivett got her feet wet in a number of functions in the development office, from engagement with alumni to face-to-face meetings with prospects. Finding that her forte was in events for the college’s major gift program, she went on to work in that and numerous other fundraising positions at King’s College for eight years.
Her favorite project? The “World Questions|King’s Answers” campaign, which won a CASE Platinum Award. The campaign raises funds to answer big questions that can benefit humankind, such as “How can we beat cancer in half the time?” and “How can we curb radicalization?”
Rivett was recruited recently for her new events position at Imperial College London.
“Higher education development is a dynamic, growing sector in the U.K.,” she says. “It really is a diverse field that requires a diverse range of people with diverse skill sets. The thing that unites people working in higher ed development is a shared commitment and desire to work collaboratively to raise money for projects and work that will have a positive impact in the world.”
Universities elsewhere in Europe also want to develop their fundraising capabilities, which can be less well-established than those in the U.K. Two years ago, Nathalie Fontana moved from her development position at the University of Oxford to become director of philanthropy at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, a science and technology institution located on the shore of Lake Geneva in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“Switzerland is very small, with limited people who play a role in higher education fundraising,” Fontana says, noting that she has a three-person department, that most gifts come from foundations, and that very little is being done to connect with alumni. “To us, the trainee program is the perfect instrument. We’re not Oxford or Stanford with hundreds of people in advancement. We all need extra hands to help.”
Enter her first trainee, Yann Bachelot, a recent graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who began last year.
“Trainees must be ready to learn, be excited by fundraising, and [be] enthusiastic. That’s what I appreciate most about Yann. Someone who is self-driven and motivated makes all the difference,” she says.
Bachelot had a cosmopolitan upbringing, living in France, Switzerland, Italy, and the United States, and majored in political science with minors in economics and Chinese. He says fundraising in some realm had always been in the back of his mind as a possible career.
“When it was time to decide what direction to head into at the end of my bachelor’s degree, I started considering it as a serious career option; finding out about the Graduate Trainee Scheme is what really triggered the decision for me to get started in this field,” he says. “It’s really an all-around fantastic learning experience for getting a taste of a career in fundraising.”
Walker helped run a session at last year’s CASE Europe Annual Conference with three fellow former graduate trainees. Titled “Fly on the Wall—Fundraising Meetings You’ll Have in Your First Five Years,” the session drew on what they had learned in their first years in higher education development.
For Walker, that meant talking about his traineeship at the University of Bristol following undergraduate work as a telephone fundraiser. The CASE program appealed to him because he wanted to build on his interpersonal communication skills to “support projects making a genuine impact in the world, addressing global issues as varied as climate change, social mobility, and health care.”
“The level of mentorship and support offered by the program and the wider CASE network was unparalleled compared to other sectors I had researched and considered,” he says.
He learned about an opening for a philanthropy manager at University College London through a contact he made at CASE’s Spring Institute in Educational Fundraising. He got the job and has raised over £1.3 million ($1.66 million) so far.
“I feel particularly proud of the gifts I’ve secured to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many talented recipients of scholarship gifts I’ve been involved in facilitating. It’s always deeply inspiring to hear their stories, and it gives me great satisfaction to know that I’ve played a role in changing someone’s life for the better,” he says.
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About the author(s)
Barbara Ruben is a senior content creator at CASE.
Article appears in:
Advancing to the top: How professionals from advancement fields found their way to top leadership roles. Plus, advancement professionals share how to avoid data pitfalls, and CASE celebrates 10 years of training the next generation of fundraisers.