Panellists discuss the CASE-More UK Philanthropy Report at the CASE Europe Annual Conference in Edinburgh


The ‘Philanthropic University’: towards the vision

by Pamela Agar - 20 September 2023


Following the launch of the CASE-More UK Philanthropy Report, we are pleased to bring you the next instalment of our blog series exploring topics emerging from the report’s findings and recommendations.

Today, CASE Europe Co-Executive Director, Pamela Agar, reflects on some of the key factors in building a culture of philanthropy.

As the dust settles on the 2023 CASE Europe Annual Conference in Edinburgh, I’ve been reflecting on my first experience of that event as a member of the CASE staff team, bringing together over 700 advancement professionals from 25 countries.

Undoubtedly, one of my highlights was experiencing the buzz around the launch of the CASE-More UK Philanthropy Report. First, there was the clamour from delegates to get their hands on a printed copy to enable highlighting and post-it notes to be applied liberally throughout. Then came an inspiring panel, introducing the key findings and predictions to the delegates. It was a particular joy to hear Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews and President of Universities UK, speak with such enthusiasm and commitment about her role in galvanising her institution’s philanthropic endeavours.

Hearing her speak about how she spends some 40% of her time supporting philanthropy and stakeholder engagement reminded me of one of the quotations from a respondent to the workforce survey that jumped out at me when I first read the report:

“We’re doing pretty well. We’d do even better if the Vice-Chancellor showed any interest.”

The report findings around leadership are emphatic. Institutional leadership involvement is essential for flourishing philanthropy programmes. Some 94% of survey respondents felt that buy-in from senior leaders was either vital or had a significant effect on the success of their institution’s ability to attract philanthropic funds.

There are many, many wonderful examples of engaged institutional leaders throughout the UK higher education sector, several of whom contributed to the CASE-More UK Philanthropy Report including Dame Sally and Professor Malcolm Press from Manchester Metropolitan University, who shared his perspectives on this blog.

Yet, there are many other institutions experiencing the opposite. Some leaders feel fundraising is purely the remit of the development office, some feel forced to allow funding to flow to other strategic priorities, and some choose to close operations altogether.

I get it. The role of the institutional leader is increasingly complex and the environment in which our universities are operating is particularly challenging. Fragile public funding, regulatory changes, geopolitics, Brexit and, of course, Covid, have all contributed to a context that keeps leadership attention focused elsewhere and makes budget prioritisation an impossible juggling act.

The increasing number of universities in England operating in deficit means many need financial return immediately. Yet sustainable fundraising is a long game, and it takes years of consistent investment, effort and commitment to reap regular rewards.

So, how can we persuade leaders to stay the course?

1. Contribute to sector benchmarking and gain valuable insights for your own institution

In my years working in higher education institutions, I always found that I had a much better chance of convincing leadership of the need to make a change, commit to an investment or try something new, if I could support my proposals with a strong base of data and benchmarking. The longitudinal sets of global fundraising data analysed in preparing the CASE-More UK Philanthropy Report offer leaders a compelling perspective on overarching sector trends, as well as tracking the experiences of a comparative peer group.

But, while the value of data is clear, it was disappointing to see so starkly the decline in participation in CASE sector benchmarking studies, particularly among both modern and specialist universities, from a peak of 164 in 2011 to 88 universities last year. Back in 2011, participation in the survey was a condition of the Matched Funding Scheme in England, but the continued decline in more recent years suggests it is no longer considered an institutional priority.

Benchmarking really does build better insights for all of us. The more accurate our sector analysis is, the more helpful it will be for institutions at different stages of advancement maturity to review their progress.

Data collection has just opened for both the 2022-23 CASE Insights on Philanthropy (UK and Ireland) survey (formerly the CASE-Ross survey) and the 2023 global CASE Insights on Alumni Engagement survey. If you’ve never participated or have had a break in recent years, I’d urge you to take part this year.

2. Consider who you benchmark yourself against carefully

While it is a valuable exercise to learn from universities across the sector, it is important to remember that every institution is different, and one size does not fit all. At best, it can be personally demoralising to compare your fundraising activity against organisations at a completely different stage of philanthropic maturity, or with a wildly different context and focus. At worst, inappropriate comparisons can be used as rationale for disinvesting in programmes viewed as underperforming.

The report groupings can help institutions see how they are performing against similar organisations, and participants in the CASE Insights on Philanthropy (UK and Ireland) survey are able to commission strategic benchmarking reports to select specific peer organisations to benchmark against so that comparisons are better aligned. Increasingly, CASE will be able to offer comparisons across countries and regions as all our surveys align with the CASE Global Reporting Standards.

Take time to consider who the best benchmarking peer community is for your institution, both in terms of data, but also in terms of qualitative review of programmes, teams and strategies. And then define the path that works best for your own university.

3. Encourage institutional leaders to see advancement as a core part of their role – and one they can hone

The CASE-More UK Philanthropy report urges institutions to include an appetite for and experience of advancement as a key component of the institutional leader job description and person specification. We therefore must ensure that current leaders can develop their skills in the field, but also that there is a pipeline of potential leaders ready and experienced to take on this role.

The practice and profession of philanthropy doesn’t stand still, and with audience demographics changing significantly, it’s important to be open to learning. Like all of us, continual personal development is crucial to hone your professional skills – and institutional leaders are no exception. Offering opportunities for them to learn from each other and from sector specialists is crucial.

One such opportunity is our new CASE programme for institutional leaders, Leading Your University to Success which is launching in London in December 2023. Targeted at the most senior university leaders (Vice Chancellors, Presidents, Rectors and their Deputies), the programme will help them to develop in their role as the institutional lead in philanthropy and external relations and will offer the space for them to look ahead and shape how their institution can build deeper and more meaningful partnerships.

4. Widen the pool of engaged leaders and colleagues

It’s not enough for the institutional leader alone to see philanthropy as part of their role. Indeed, over-reliance on one senior individual can be a risk to truly embedding a culture of giving.

The CASE-More UK Philanthropy Report reminds readers of the vision of the “philanthropic university” where there is awareness of the institution as a cause and where supporter engagement is at the heart of the institution’s strategy. Yet the survey findings reveal that philanthropy is not an integrated and collaborative endeavour across the sector. Only 4% of respondents reported that philanthropy was interwoven across most aspects of their institution, and over half saw little or no collaborative working outside the development/advancement team.

The benefits of expanding the pool of engaged senior leaders, volunteers and colleagues are wide-ranging. Broadening responsibility and awareness across institutions can bolster consistency and continuity when leadership changes. Engagement from senior academics can ‘turbo-charge’ transformational gifts, particularly within research-intensive universities. Trustees and Councils must understand their role in terms of due diligence and managing risk.

CASE can help upskill entire leadership teams and volunteers through our bespoke CASE@Campus training programme, but the commitment within institutions must be ongoing. I’d love to see it as normal practice within institutions to talk to staff and students about the role of philanthropy and the local strategy and approach – if only to try and dispel the myth that anyone can simply add wish list items to a fundraising shopping list. Crucially, the more ambassadors who can speak confidently and passionately about both the institution as a charitable cause and its specific philanthropic priorities, the greater the chance of success.

About the author
Pamela Agar leads the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Europe as Co-Executive Director alongside her job-share partner, Caroline Davis. Prior to joining CASE in November 2022, Pamela and Caroline served as Co-Directors of External Relations, Communications and Marketing at St George’s, University of London for three years, overseeing a team of professionals responsible for communications, marketing, digital, design, development and alumni relations.

Pamela has over two decades of experience in the education sector, heaving held senior roles in communications and marketing at institutions including Imperial College London and The Francis Crick Institute. In addition, she was the Managing Director of content strategy agency Pickle Jar Communications and has worked with a range of schools and universities as a freelance digital strategy and brand consultant.

More benchmarking
Our award-winning Regular Giving Insight and Benchmarking project is the most authoritative analysis of the changing landscape of alumni giving in UK and Irish universities – and registration is now open for this year’s programme. To find out more, visit http://www.morepartnership.com/benchmarking/.