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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.

Building philanthropy into UCL’s fabric – It’s All Academic Campaign update

ucyolma7 November 2017

“What better return on an investment is there than knowing you have made a difference that will contribute to greater knowledge and understanding, and the development of academic excellence?”

I love this comment by Richard Jenkins, one of UCL’s wonderful supporters, because it encapsulates both what philanthropy achieves and what motivates people to give.

Richard along with his partner Maureen Amar fund a range of scholarships and have their own particular reasons for focusing their philanthropy there. But that generous impulse to drive change and improve lives is one that anyone who has worked in fundraising will recognise.

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