Professor Robin Williams is delighted to be like a fundraising marriage broker. Greg Johnson learns that the La Trobe University’s director of alumni and advancement has a sense of humour to rival his famous namesake.


Professor Robin Williams is delighted to be like a fundraising marriage broker. Greg Johnson learns that the La Trobe University’s director of alumni and advancement has a sense of humour to rival his famous namesake.


How did you get into fundraising?

I got into it through an academic career – I was a departmental head and did a couple of stints as a dean. One thing I did very successfully was bring in external money to support the faculty and researchers. So, I think it’s a case of be careful what you’re good at! The vice-chancellor of my then university asked if I’d consider fundraising for the university as a whole, so that’s how I moved into it full-time.

What do you really enjoy about fundraising?
I really love matching up people that are passionate about making a difference. I do a lot of what I call spinning in and spinning out – you spin into the university to find people that are making a difference in an area, then you spin out – which is the proactive identification – to look for donors who are passionate about those causes. My job, my delightful job, is kind of a bit like a marriage broker in lining those two sets of people up. It’s a crude metaphor, but it’s very much like that.

Are there any achievements you’re particularly proud of?
At my last university, RMIT, I started a ground-up operation and built its permanent endowment from $5.9 million to $24 million in a five-year period, plus tens of millions of dollars in what I’d call transient funding. I’ve got to say, I’m very proud of that because at the end of the day it’s the dollars that count.

What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of fundraising?
It’s probably a surprising answer, but I find the night work really challenging. I’m a great believer in you’re either a morning person or a night person, and I’m a 5:30am process person, but then I’ve got to wheel into the relationship stuff late at night. It comes with the territory, but night work I am not naturally adapted to!

Do you have a particular philosophy or approach to life?
Woody Allen said, “90% of life is just showing up” – people take that as dispiriting, but actually there’s kind of a serious side to that. What it means is you’ve got to keep at it; it doesn’t literally mean you’ve just got to stay breathing! I think fundraising is a particularly patient and tenacious business, so that’s what I mean – you’ve got to keep at it, never take no for an answer. I’m actually, quietly, very tenacious about what I do.