The rise of university philanthropy in Australia

Sue Cunningham, President and CEO, Council for Advancement and Support of Education

16 December 2016

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Philanthropic support for higher education in Australia and New Zealand is on the rise. This is a heartening trend, and in many ways, 2015 was a particularly outstanding year for universities building a culture of philanthropy.

The latest CASE report, Charitable Giving to Universities in Australia and New Zealand, shows a strong increase in giving and donors based on data reported by 24 universities.

Not only did the participating universities report record growth in new funds secured and cash income received (around $530 million and $400 million respectively), but they also reported exceptional growth from bequests. 

From 2014 to 2015, new funds secured from bequests increased by 156 percent while cash income received from bequests rose by 162 percent during the same period. 

Another exceptional statistic: universities reported that the number of “transformational gifts,” that is gifts over $1 million, increased by 72 percent. 

There has also been strong growth in the number of donors who are generously giving to these institutions. The data reveals that the total number of donors and total number of alumni donors grew by 23 percent and 16 percent, respectively. 

These statistics prove that Australians and New Zealanders, when asked, can and do give generously to education. Furthermore, donors from other parts of the world are choosing to invest in Australian and New Zealand universities. 

As professional advancement (development and alumni relations) develops, this generosity is likely to grow, affording the broader community greater opportunity to engage with the powerful impact that higher education has in transforming and saving lives around the world. 

The opportunity is there but how can we further encourage this engagement? Greater investment in fundraising and alumni relations at our institutions is vital. Data has shown that institutions with greater investment in advancement staff secure more philanthropic income. Institutional leadership engagement is also critical.

A quick comparison with British universities through similar surveys shows that Australian and New Zealand universities are heading in the right direction. In fact, some are achieving results that exceed their peer institutions in the UK, despite the sector being more developed there. 

Even so, it’s clear that Australian and New Zealand universities have room to grow. After all, professional advancement in Australian and New Zealand universities commenced in earnest only relatively recently—during the last decade. Many universities need further investment in their overall fundraising structure if they are to increase philanthropic revenue. 

One area of concern is the shortage of professional educational fundraisers—this is a profession that needs to grow to meet increasing demands. 

Tim Dolan, Vice-Principal, Advancement, of the University of Sydney, and Chair of the Go8 Chief Advancement Officers, noted recently: 

“If we could double our fundraising teams, the resulting impact would be phenomenal.” 

The newly launched CASE Asia-Pacific Educational Fundraising Graduate Trainee Program is one solution that will help to increase the number of trained fundraisers in the region. 

There is much to applaud about the philanthropic landscape in Australian and New Zealand universities as demonstrated clearly in the above findings. 

It is particularly encouraging to see such a positive increase in philanthropic investment and donor confidence among these institutions. 

The recent Philanthropy Capacity Building Symposium, a joint event between Universities Australia and CASE, is the kind of ongoing work we need to build philanthropy and alumni engagement in our universities.

Together, we need to further raise the profile of advancement in the higher education sector as a whole. And, with the required investment in these programs and institutional leadership fully involved, the growth we have already seen can only continue.