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Philanthropic Support Grows for Higher Education in Australia

1 February 2019 at 1:56 pm
Luke Michael
A leading philanthropy expert believes philanthropic support for universities will continue to grow, after the University of Sydney raised $1 billion through the "largest philanthropic campaign in Australian history”.

Luke Michael | 1 February 2019 at 1:56 pm


Philanthropic Support Grows for Higher Education in Australia
1 February 2019 at 1:56 pm

A leading philanthropy expert believes philanthropic support for universities will continue to grow, after the University of Sydney raised $1 billion through the “largest philanthropic campaign in Australian history”.

John McLeod, from JBWere Philanthropic Services, told Pro Bono News University of Sydney’s achievement – raised through a 10-year campaign with support from 64,000 donors – was part of a broader trend in Australian philanthropy toward increased giving to higher education.

McLeod, who last year published a report on the changing face of giving in Australia, said the growing areas of philanthropy were the high-net-worth market, including private ancillary funds, and the corporate sector.

“If you look at what areas both those two groups support, universities rank quite highly in them, and yet if you look at how universities rank in terms of broader philanthropy, they’re getting a relatively low share of the mass market’s money,” McLeod said.

“But universities are actually sitting in a sweet spot in that the areas of philanthropy that are growing at the moment are the areas that tend to support them… and this $1 billion achievement is really reflective of that.”

McLeod said in the US, the share of philanthropy that goes toward higher education was up to 15 per cent – double the share in Australia.

His report noted that the US higher education sector has almost doubled its philanthropy share since the early 1980s, while in Australia giving to higher education currently sits at around the same proportion as it did in the US at the start of their growth phase.

McLeod said as universities ramped up their fundraising teams, further growth was possible in the sector, as other universities followed the University of Sydney’s lead.

University of Sydney’s initial goal in 2008 was to raise $600 million, but after achieving that in 2015, the target was stretched to $1 billion.

The University of Melbourne also has a goal of raising $1 billion by 2021.

McLeod said there were lessons that other sectors could learn from higher education’s success.

But he acknowledged it was difficult for other sectors that relied on raising most of their money from areas that weren’t growing very fast, and he suggested they try expanding into areas that were growing.

“The question they need to ask themselves is ‘why do these corporates or high net worth individuals choose to support universities?’ It’s really the messaging around it and the skill set sitting in the universities,” he said.

“Most of the research and innovation is done from universities and that is what these growing groups really desire. So other charities have got to perhaps think about casting some of their ask in that language, rather than just the emotive ask.

“Because those audiences aren’t always driven by the emotive ask, they’re driven by the answers – the research and innovation that universities are quite good at.”

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Dr Michael Spence said the $1 billion milestone was the “largest philanthropic campaign in Australian history”.

He said this was a truly transformative achievement that allowed the university to undertake research and build initiatives that changed lives for the better.

“The funding from our donors, who come from Australia and all over the world, has demonstrated our community’s unwavering belief in the crucial work the university does in research and education,” Spence said.

“Their generosity runs contrary to the common perception that Australia lacks a philanthropic culture.”

More than $368 million will go towards medical research including investigating the potential of cannabis products to treat conditions such as epilepsy and neurodegenerative diseases and new asthma research that could warn sufferers of flare-ups and save lives.

One of the biggest donations of the campaign was from the Susan and Isaac Wakil Foundation, which gave $35 million in March 2016 to support the building of the new Camperdown Health Precinct, the Susan Wakil Health Building.

Combined with the foundation’s gift in May 2015 of $10.8 million to endow 12 nursing scholarships, it made Isaac and Susan Wakil the most significant benefactors in the history of the university. 

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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