From the President: Is Philanthropy the new black for University senior management?

Is Philanthropy the new black for University senior management?

If not, it should be.

There is certainly a growing sophistication in the way universities receive and manage donor support and the generosity of people, eager to contribute to back to the community.

There is a shift in thinking about what has not been a natural instinct in Australia. A number of services have been and in many cases are still seen as the responsibility of governments, and education is one of them. Possibly it is more familiar in the arts where ideas of patronage from private sources has a longer history. The costs of higher education have been seen, certainly for the last 40 or so years, as being rightly born by the Commonwealth Government, by individuals, and not to mention the international student market.

However, this is changing and we have learned to do the difficult thing, that is to ask! And ask nicely!

People in the business of philanthropy, and it is certainly an expanding professional field, are saying that perhaps Universities should not say what we are good at but rather what we are good for! Also it is increasingly clear that rather than give to the University, people of means are keen to give through the university to a program or project that they have some commitment to and have ongoing interest in; one that means something to them and for which they care a great deal.

Q: What do we in the DDCA, in creative arts higher education, care about most? A: Education and the Arts.

I for one think it is a great trend to see those two things coming together more often. Many of us are great beneficiaries of this happily increasing trend, whether through small-scale support for scholarships and prizes for students, or for large capital projects. We are getting better at saying thank you and targeting how we ask.

On the flip side there are the tensions that can sometimes emerge in the way gifts are framed or indeed administered, often beyond the intentions of the donor themselves. The intention of the Ramsay Gift, much in contention, it could be said, has been interpreted through the views of board members, rather than perhaps the donor himself or the terms of the gift. Individual gifts may come with histories that don’t always fit with the values of the organisations. Or the relationships between donor and institution not adequately developed. There are many ways it can go wrong without good care.

However these failings are increasingly rare as we get better at framing the way the Deeds of Gift are written and initially conceived. And the way we might advise prospective donors, and help to identify opportunities that benefit both them and the institution in a number of ways, such as the various ways these funds can support research activity, that in turn can be identified in the HERDC accounting, with the attendant return of 27 cents in the dollar, at last count.

So, we have much to gain from the growing attention given to philanthropy, and we have much to learn, but the benefit of funds that return in perpetuity, are one of the joyful quirks of capitalism and the function of compound interest that we should celebrate and fulsomely encourage.