I had the great pleasure of serving on a panel last week discussing the future of philanthropy in higher education, specifically for schools in England. The panel participated in an online chat session that proved both very engaging for me, as the lone American represented, and for my six fellow panelists as we compared experiences working in fundraising for higher education institutions and how things are different (and in some cases very similar) between the U.S. and the U.K.
Some quick observations in summary:
– Philanthropy is a relatively new phenomenon in higher education for the British, according to my fellow panelists. They view American universities as being light years ahead of their British counterparts.
– I gently refuted the notion that all or most higher education institutions in the U.S. are fabulously successful in fundraising. In fact, many are not far removed from where those in Britain find themselves, struggling to articulate why alumni should give back, to identify and reach out to their alumni, and to establish a culture of giving. While many private institutions in America have been raising philanthropic dollars for generations or even centuries, many, many public institutions were late to the game or even now are just starting such efforts.
– Best practices in fundraising – succinct, impactful messaging; effective cultivation; strong, action-oriented appeal; meaningful stewardship – are as relevant to the Oxfords and Harvards of the world as they are to fledgling programs just in the early stages of establishing donor support.
– All of us who work in advancement can learn so much from each other, and from our colleagues in different parts of the country or different parts of the world. Higher education fundraising is a mix of art and science that, while it bears many similarities to other causes, is indeed different from grassroots appeals. Our alumni paid to attend our institutions, and yet they also have emotional ties to our institutions, and they by and large care about protecting the value of their degrees. This creates challenges and opportunities different from other types of nonprofit organizations.
I thank The Guardian UK for the invitation to participate, and I look forward to interacting with my new friends “across the pond” again sometime soon!