We need to tackle a nationwide attitude, not just York’s alumni scheme.
The recent disclosure that the University’s alumni funding for the previous academic year was only £82,000 should be met with little surprise. York’s alumni fund only began two years ago, so it can be expected that only a small number of willing graduate donors are currently onboard. The questions which must really be asked are: why has it taken so long for the University to think of this, and what can be done to make it more successful?
Currently, York lags behind most of its rival institutions. Universities in the same bracket of academic standards such as Edinbrugh, Bristol and Leeds make between three and eight times more. However, with the exception of Oxbridge, it remains that British universities are impoverished when compared to their American counterparts. Britain currently lies 50 years behind America. Ivy League schools such as Princeton, Harvard and Yale all have alumni participation rates between 25% and 50%. Compare that to York’s paltry participation rate of 1.3%. The average American alumni fund is 14 times more than that of the average British university. Consequently, American universities have long dominated in their capabilities of pulling off campaigns to raise $1 billion or more. Given the increasingly inadequate funding from the British government, it is clear there is a considerable chasm that desperately needs to be closed.
So what is it that stops Britain from having similar success? Perhaps it’s our attitude towards philanthropy. Since the mid-90’s charities have talked about the ‘British philanthropic deficit’, which sees the richest 20% of Britons donate a measly 0.7% of their household expenditure to non-profit organisations. Furthermore British people are very suspicious of rich donors; they are often seen as egotistical self-publicists. This is to such an extent that courses have been run by American experts to help British educators learn how to extract money from their alumni. Oxford, who after announcing their plan to raise $25 billion, have recruited American fundraisers in planning and running its campaign.
The solution should be to introduce more innovation into the fundraising process. Simply expecting handouts is insufficient. While York’s plan to introduce reunions as a means of encouraging donations is laudable, it isn’t enough. American universities run competitions between alumni classes to give more than each other. York should use its collegiate system in a similar way; each college running fundraising events which galvanise ex-students to participate.
Using existing philanthropic research may also prove useful. A recent report in May by the Chronicle of Philanthropy claims that people who are asked to participate in volunteer projects for an institution are much more likely to pledge large gifts than others. By encouraging successful alumni to speak or get involved in alternative projects, University officials can avoid too many rejections from uninvolved alumni.
Even with the introduction of such methods, it is undoubted that much work must be done in convincing the British public that charity is a worthwhile cause inspite of the welfare system. Especially when the future of British higher education may depend on it.