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Giving a big hand to UCL’s donors – UCL’s new Donor Wall is unveiled

ucypnmb23 May 2019

Written on behalf of Lori Houlihan, Vice-Provost (Advancement)

Next time you walk through the Wilkins Terrace, look out for a striking new piece of public art literally reaching out to you. The installation, featuring over 60 hands individually cast in bronze and aluminium, is UCL’s new Donor Wall – a high-profile celebration of the enormous role that philanthropy plays in supporting our community and delivering our long-term ambitions.

Close up of the new Donor Wall in Wilkins Terrace

The hands belong to members of UCL’s Circle of Benefactors, a diverse group of our most generous donors who give to us at the £1m+ level, plus other leading supporters of UCL. They include TV presenter Nick Ross representing the Jill Dando Fund, AI pioneer Demis Hassabis representing DeepMind, Founder and Executive Chairman of Iceland Food Sir Malcolm Walker, Hong Kong-based alumna Cathy Lee, and alumni Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas – plus many more individuals, companies, organisations, charities, trusts and foundations from around the world.

The Wall was created by Slade School alumna Dr Sarah Fortais and you can find out more about her concept in this video.

We officially unveiled the Donor Wall last week at a wonderfully celebratory event to demonstrate to our largest donors how much their investment and partnership matters to UCL.

Unveiling the Donor Wall: (l to r) Angharad Milenkovic, Director of Development; alumnus and donor George Farha; artist Sarah Fortais; President & Provost Michael Arthur; Vice-Provost (International) Nicola Brewer

Guests included UCL alumnus George Farha, whose name will be familiar to all of us thanks to his outstanding and very diverse support of UCL, which ranges from funding the George Farha Café to supporting scholarships and posts in areas including women’s health, social justice and the built environment.

Recalling his student days, he commented that UCL is “a lot bigger and quite a bit shinier” than in his day, adding that “the thing that has remained the same is UCL’s commitment to its radical roots.”

The event was also an opportunity to update guests on the progress of the It’s All Academic Campaign, to which they have contributed significantly. The Campaign total now stands at £525 million and is set to reach its target of £600 million in 2020 – one year ahead of schedule.

Students who have received a scholarship thanks to philanthropy reveal the latest Campaign total

These huge sums of money are hard to visualise but what we can see very clearly is the tangible impact they are having. Thanks to philanthropy, hundreds of students have received life- changing opportunities through scholarships. A major new home for our neuroscience research bringing is rising up on Grays Inn Road, bringing UCL’s Queen Square Institute of Neurology and the hub of the UK Dementia Research Institute together under one roof.

Nick Ross marks the Donor Wall unveiling on behalf of the Jill Dando Fund, which supports the UCL Jill Dando Institute

Generous donations have catalysed the creation of institutes and research programmes which harness UCL’s multidisciplinary excellence to lead the way in artificial intelligence, mental health, mission-oriented economics, early years education, and much more.

The success of the Campaign, and the breadth and diversity of Circle of Benefactors members, is a great tribute to Lori Houlihan, Vice-Provost (Advancement). Under her leadership, UCL has grown to become one of the UK’s highest performing fundraising universities and this Campaign has broadened and globalised our supporter base significantly.

Celebrating transformational philanthropy

Unfortunately, due to ill health, Lori couldn’t be at last Thursday’s event to see the fruits of her astute and creative leadership. I was privileged to step in on her behalf. While she is recovering, she has asked me to look after OVPA and I am happy to be working with her brilliant team in the interim.

I know that Lori would want me to thank the whole UCL community, whose support has been vital to making the Campaign the great success it is. The Donor Wall provides a highly visible testament to how far UCL has come in establishing fundraising as a university-wide endeavour and a crucial enabler of our academic mission.

A life-long relationship – why and how to keep your alumni connected

ucyolma15 January 2019

UCL’s 2018 alumni survey showed that 89% of alumni who responded feel positive about the experience they had as students here and 91% describe themselves as ‘proud’ to have been a UCL student.

Notably, UCL graduates who are still in touch with other alumni are significantly more likely to say that their student experience was excellent, to be proud of UCL and to still feel connected to the university.

Cathy and Martin Lee present £3m donation to UCL

These proud, connected alumni are our biggest advocates, our volunteers and, in many cases, also our donors – as we saw in November, when Hong Kong alumna Cathy Lee and her husband Martin announced a donation of £3 million to support our neuroscience research. So keeping that strong sense of connection to UCL and their UCL network is vital.

Clearly student experience in the round plays a huge part in that and the investment UCL is making to support students to have an excellent social as well as academic experience – for example through the new Student Centre – is very important.

Keeping graduates in touch with UCL and each other

But what we do after students graduate can also make a big difference in keeping them connected to UCL and each other, and to maintaining that sense of pride and belonging.

As Vice-Provost (Advancement), alumni engagement is one of my key responsibilities. That’s why UCL’s It’s All Academic Campaign is as focused on building and growing our worldwide alumni community as it is on raising £600 million in philanthropic income.

UCL alumni professional development event

Since the Campaign launch in September 2016, my office has led a wide range of alumni relations activities, from delivering a range of social and professional development events in London, the UK regions and key international markets to developing online platforms through which alumni can network, find friends and contacts, and support each other and current students.

Strongest relationship is with departments

However this isn’t and could never be the totality of our alumni engagement. The survey confirmed what we have long known – that the majority of alumni feel the strongest sense of relationship with their schools, faculties and departments.

Therefore a big part of what we do is work with departments to support, develop and facilitate their own targeted alumni engagement.

Your alumni want to stay involved and can help you tremendously, through mentoring and work experience opportunities for current students, research and business collaborations, course marketing support, advocacy, and of course philanthropy.

We know that many departments already have well-established alumni programmes in place, while others are still developing or are at an early stage. Whatever stage you are at, my office is here to help you reach and engage your alumni through a variety of methods and channels.

Opportunities to engage international alumni

Professors Hazel Genn and Geraint Rees meet Hong Kong alumni

The alumni survey also gave evidence of something that we have long been intuitively aware – that international alumni communities are some of our most active and engaged, despite having fewer opportunities to physically come back to visit UCL. Travelling abroad to study is momentous and memorable; that chance to meet people from different cultural backgrounds (often for the first time) and to live in an iconic capital city is life-shaping and forges a powerful connection.

All relationships need work and attention to keep them going, and our key international communities hugely appreciate visits from UCL staff to keep them feeling part of the community as well as our regular digital communications.

USA alumni reconnect with UCL

Through 2019, we will be working hard to nurture and build on our international alumni engagement, in particular in the key markets of China and Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, Japan and the USA.

If you have plans to travel in those regions this year and might be interested in taking part in alumni events or meetings, please contact my team for more information.

University years are a memorable and, for many people, transformative time, shaping the rest of our lives. The time students spend here at UCL is comparatively short but the memories last a lifetime – and so should the relationship. Investing in keeping our alumni close reaps multiple benefits for UCL, our students and for alumni themselves.

For advice on how the alumni relations team can support you to further your alumni engagement or on how to take part in international alumni events, please contact us on alumni@ucl.ac.uk.

Setting course for the £1bn club – advancing philanthropy in uncertain times

ucyolma14 November 2018

We are now just over two years since the public launch of the It’s All Academic Campaign to raise £600m in philanthropic income for UCL. Earlier in 2018 we hit the £400m mark a year ahead of the projected schedule and we will reach £500m in the first quarter of next year.

Barring extreme unforeseen circumstances, our next campaign will certainly put UCL in the highly exclusive club of non-USA universities with billion pound campaigns. So this seems like a good time to reflect on how we have managed to come so far so quickly, and how we build on this success to drive forward our future fundraising – especially in an economic and political environment that has become deeply unpredictable.

Philanthropy in the funding mix

Philanthropy helps UCL multiply and accelerate its local, national and global impact. With a declining proportion of the funding for our research, teaching and enterprise coming from the state, we need to diversify sustainable financial support for the academy’s important work. In the US, a big chunk of that traditionally comes from private philanthropy. In the UK, as the role of the state increased after World War II, the role of philanthropy declined.

There is an urgent need for it to grow again, as state support shrinks. UCL’s Campaign puts us at the forefront of efforts to encourage that.

Anticipating emerging global concerns

The process of philanthropy is sometimes seen as being driven by the needs or priorities of a particular institution, department or individual. In this model, the need for funding is identified and it is then the job of the advancement team to find and cultivate the right donors. In planning this Campaign, for example, we consulted widely with the academic community to set the major priority projects on which we would focus.

Wolfson Foundation Chief Executive Paul Ramsbottom meets UCL’s Adrian Ivinson to tour the UK Dementia Research Institute interim hub

Many more times, however, the drive is the other way – the world says ‘this is important’ and UCL’s expertise and excellence puts us in the driving seat. This is where philanthropy really becomes an art as well as a science. As the external environment changes, so does the impact that major global philanthropists want to have. UCL’s success lies in its ability to anticipate emerging priorities and concerns so that it is positioned to lead the way rather than playing catch up.

Academic expertise to engage donors

A really close relationship between the academic community and UCL’s fundraising professionals is crucial to this. Over the past very busy few months in particular, the time, energy and expert knowledge of many academic colleagues has been what has enabled UCL to create meaningful engagements with potential donors and expand their understanding of UCL in a compelling way.

Professor Tariq Enver conveys the unique impact of UCL cancer research to current and prospective donors

From mobilising quickly to respond to emerging opportunities in artificial intelligence to dedicating deep consideration to how we coherently tell the complex and unique story of cancer research and translation at UCL – this is where the expert knowledge of the academic community is vital and irreplaceable. We know there are already multiple demands on your time and we are hugely grateful for your willingness to work hand in hand with the fundraising team. It is this approach – the fundraising university rather than any university with a fundraising office – that makes the difference between the merely good and the global elite in the world of philanthropy.

Thinking outside in and inside out

An added bonus of being a fundraising university with close connections to global influencers is the dual perspective this gives us – ‘outside in’ as well as ‘inside out’ thinking. In a sector in which reputation is hard currency operating in a highly political environment, the information and insight we gain from interested, supportive and sometimes critical friends is immensely valuable.

Philanthropy, Brexit and global UCL

As we edge closer to March 2019, I hear more and more concern across the community that our philanthropic fundraising will be negatively affected by Brexit. It’s true that anecdotally I am starting to hear from a small number of philanthropists that the uncertainty around the UK’s political and economic position is making them think twice about giving right now. From a philanthropy point of view, though, it is not the impact of an economic downturn that is my major concern: we saw that the 2008 economic shocks had very little effect on levels of philanthropic giving. We can hope that any economic downturn caused by Brexit would have similarly little lasting impact.

The greater threat to my mind is the damage that is already being done to the UK’s reputation for being open and global, a place that is internationally engaged and collaborates across borders. Philanthropy is global and major philanthropists want to partner with institutions that share that internationalist ethos. UCL’s cross-disciplinary excellence and ethos make it a unique and highly desirable partner, but we can’t solve all the world’s challenges by ourselves. Leading global philanthropists are even more impressed by how we partner internationally to address large-scale problems that no one institution or industry can do alone.

Engaging supporters and alumni in Hong Kong

That makes our preparations for Brexit, and in particular the excellent work led by the Global Engagement Office to expand our international partnerships, crucial. If the UK is going to become more inward-looking, we must ensure that UCL expresses ever more proactively its internationalist ethos. It is work that the Provost and Vice-Provost (International) are leading but in which all of us play our part. I am confident that UCL’s determination to maintain and expand it’s global vision against the current political tide will win us even greater philanthropic support and success in the coming years.