YouGov/CASE poll shows huge potential for growth in university fundraising (the glass half-full view)

by Stephen Tall on September 10, 2010

A report which begins,

Only 2 per cent of the British population has ever thought of donating money to universities,

might not, at first glance, be thought to be great news for university fundraising. Let me persuade you why I think it is.

First, the context.

The report, in the THES, is based on a YouGov poll commissioned by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Europe.

More importantly, it was a poll of more than 2,000 people, half of whom had experience of university. Now this matters because the vast majority of folk who are likely to contribute to higher education are university graduates so, when looking at the poll results, we can in effect double the numbers.

(There are of course non-graduate philanthropists in higher education, many of them very generous: but numerically they are a small group).

So let’s have a look at the YouGov poll findings through a more rose-tinted lens than the THES does:

  • once made aware of the concept of donating money to universities, 25 per cent said they would do so in future — which means HALF of all university graduates would consider giving in the future;
  • when the tangible benefits of donations were detailed, such as financial support for the least fortunate students, the proportion that would potentially give rose to 62 per cent — which suggests the vast majority of university graduates are open to persuasion of the benefit of giving back to universities (and a fair few non-graduates, too);
  • two-thirds of the university graduates in the survey said they had been approached to make a donation.

These strike me as hugely encouraging findings, which demonstrate that — if presented with the right information in the right way — most HE graduates will think about making a donation to their university.

Two caveats, of course. First, there’s a difference between what people are willing to tell a pollster, and their actual views, especially when being questioned a personal issue like their attitude to charitable giving. And, secondly, there’s a big difference between agreeing to consider a gift in a hypothetical way, and actually giving your money away.

But the big lessons are:

1. Make sure your alumni view university as a charitable cause, and ensure there’s a tengible link in all your communications between the money you are asking for, and the impact it will have on the lives of students and wider society;

2. Ask;

3. Repeat 1. and 2. constantly to help us at least reach the figure of 62% of alumni giving.