A new report shines a light on donation levels to Australian universities. Rochelle Nolan reports.


A new report shines a light on donation levels to Australian universities. Rochelle Nolan reports.

According to a recently released report, Australian universities received $470 million in private contributions (i.e. donations, bequests, sponsorships and non-government grants) in 2009.

The report, compiled by fundraising, philanthropy and strategy consultancy, Global Philanthropic, and entitled, Australian Universities – Private Income 2004, 2009, draws on statistics from the financial statements of 38 universities in Australia.

The results from the report are somewhat ‘rubbery’ though as there is no set standardised reporting by universities of private contributions, and no agreed definition of different categories of contributions. So the figures published here should be used with caution and are best considered as giving a broad picture of private support of universities rather than offering direct comparisons.

‘Sandstones’ leading the pack

The results in Figure A show the top ten performers at securing private contributions. Not surprisingly, many of Australia’s oldest ‘sandstone’ universities are leading the charge.
Many small universities not included in this graph have results in the low millions.

Figure A – Top 10 universities by private income sources 2009

The big improvers

Figure B shows the top 10 universities with the greatest percentage increase in private contributions over the five year period 2004 to 2009.

Interestingly, there is not a ‘sandstone’ university in sight in this graph – with most being newer universities. They may have had a low base of private contributions to start with, and so their increases in this area may be exaggerated compared to their older siblings.

Of the 38 universities included in the report, half reported an increase of 50% or more. A small number of universities reported a decrease between these years.

Figure B – Top 10 universities by percentage increase in private contributions 2004-2009

Impact of investment in fundraising

There is no data on university fundraising expenditure that would enable analysis of expenditure and results over this period, however, chief executive officer of Global Philanthropic, Daniel McDiarmid, says the investment institutions make in their development offices impacts the level of funds raised.

“The universities doing well are likely to have increased their number of fundraising staff, and shown a commitment to fundraising at the leadership level. Some universities that have significantly scaled up their fundraising staff will be seeing benefits; other universities expect fundraising to operate with just a few people,” says McDiarmid.

McDiarmid also says where the development office sits in the broader structure of an institution can also have an effect on fundraising revenue. “Some universities structure the development office too far away from the leadership of the institution, which then makes it difficult to win over other academic leaders. It is harder to fundraise well if the development office is not considered a priority in the leadership of the university.”

Broadly speaking, education fundraising is still fragile in Australia and New Zealand, due in part to many universities having very small numbers of fundraising staff, who have limited experience. But with an eye on the future, McDiarmid suggests a cultivation of development talent will slowly but surely improve overall performance.

“I expect what we will see over the coming years is that fundraisers get experience in big universities, and will then move into more senior roles at regional universities. That trade of experience will benefit the sector in around a decade.”