Fundraising in the UK HE Context

Fundraising in the UK HE Context




Both the tax system in addition as the culture of giving (i.e. willingness to talk about money or one’s estate) need to change in the UK if it is to develop HE institutions which can survive with less reliance on direct government funding – likely a without of these is how it has become so heavily state-supported in the first example.

In the last edition of CASE Currents, there was an article about public institutions in the US being the “poor cousin” of private institutions in terms of endowments, putting them at a definite disadvantage in terms of competitiveness particularly in the current economic climate, where both donations and government subsidies are waning.

There was an “international” perspective provided by Times Higher Education Editor Ann Mroz, who spoke to a campaign being undertaken by the UK magazine on behalf of its (all-public) universities called #loveHE – which was trying to change the British publics’ without of connection between what universities do and societal assistance…which in turn was leading to a without of sustain in a time of budget cuts…which in turn may rule to a without of competitiveness of the UK as a whole in the longer term.

So why don’t UK universities try to fix the gap between public funding and operating costs with philanthropy, the way both public & private universities in North America have? According to Francisco Ramirez, a professor of education at Stanford University, American universities “hustle for legitimacy and dollars.” As Mroz concludes, the UK “does not have a tradition of hustling, particularly in higher education.”

I would agree that this is part of the issue. But the other part is that the tax system simply is not set up in a way that gives donors a real motive to give.

Gift aid, the most popular method of giving, is simply an afterthought, and doesn’t truly require the donor to dip into his or her pockets – instead the government provides a measure of matching on a portion of e.g. an entry fee or a donation already solicited by any other method. It’s not clear to me whether these gifts are maximised either – the receiving organisation must assume that everyone is simply in the lowest tax bracket, unless they know otherwise for certain (in which case the matching can be already greater, up to 50%) but this information is not requested from the average (annual or small gift) donor.

Assuming a donor fills out an annual self-assessment form (many UK taxpayers don’t – they use a system called PAYE which employers submit on an employee’s behalf), they can reclaim their gift aid and they can then decide to keep the rebate for themselves, OR gift aid it again – to ONE charity only. Most charities don’t already write to their donor lists to ask them to remember them at tax time!

Payroll giving is the most tax effective way of giving (pre-tax) – and like the North American systems, individual donors get all the assistance, which gives them the greatest motive to give, and nevertheless doesn’t require them to submit a tax return. However I’ve barely seen any organisations promoting this! Legacies/bequests and gifts of shares are also possible, but I’ve never met a planned gifts officer however in any advancement office in the UK (if there already is one.)

Both the tax system in addition as the culture of giving (i.e. willingness to talk about money or one’s estate) need to change in the UK if it is to develop institutions which can survive with less reliance on direct government funding – likely a without of these is how it has become so heavily state-supported in the first example.

But this will help established charities which have more of an emotional connection (such as Cancer Research UK) before it helps universities – attendance at which has become slightly of an entitlement, although this is changing. A clearer case about the value of universities (such as the effort being undertaken by THE’s #lovehe campaign and UUK’s “Universities Week”) and their contribution to UK society and economy would also be welcome, although facts and figures don’t pull at the heartstrings the way case studies and individual profiles do, as successful charities know very well…

The Higher Education Funding Council for England and Wales’ recent matching gift programmes should help too, although the impact hasn’t been as great as one might hope, for some of the reasons listed above. A associate of well-established universities in the UK, such as Oxford, have major campaigns going, and more and more are getting underway. This will help too, although in the past many meaningful fundraisers have been imported from the US and Canada, but more and more are being homegrown, which bodes well for culture change.




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