Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Big donors help university to become a world leader

If Queen’s University can raise the £140m it needs then their will be benefits to Northern Ireland for many years to come, says Norma Sinte

The launch of Queen’s University’s £140m fundraising campaign is an important step on a remarkable journey, a journey that is taking us into the Top 100 Global Universities. It highlights the importance that philanthropy plays for a 21st century university.

The recently published ‘Review of Philanthropy in UK Higher Education by HEFCE (The Higher Education Funding Council for England) showed that not only is philanthropy more important than ever to universities, but also that it is alive and well throughout the UK.

Giving to higher education in the UK has grown ever since the recession in 2008, when it decreased in the US and when giving to other UK charities also declined. Higher education accounts for more £1m-plus gifts than any other sector.

But this has not come about by chance. The report also highlighted that the way in which universities have approached fundraising has changed over the last 10 years.

The embedding of good practice in fundraising and alumni relations within institutions and communicating a compelling case for support for universities.

At Queen’s, high level buy-in across the University and the commitment of volunteer members of the Queen’s Foundation Board has lead to a successful operation.

So, although the environment in which universities operate today is one of rapid change and there are real financial pressures on government, institutions and donors, philanthropy is succeeding.

A long tradition of philanthropy at Queen’s from the days of Sir William Whitla has enabled the University to play a key role in the economic, social and cultural life of Northern Ireland.

In recent years, we have seen the transformational effect of very large gifts such as those from Chuck Feeney (The Atlantic Philanthropies) and the late Sir Allen McClay and indeed the power of philanthropy is manifested across the campus in facilities such as the The McClay Library, Elms Student Village, the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology and latterly, the Riddel Hall campus.

Support for capital projects has enabled us to turn our ideas into reality and to create a campus that has some of the best facilities on these islands for students and staff.

Equally important are the many scholarships, internships and student initiatives that have been supported by individuals, charitable Trusts and Foundations and companies. And, although the big gifts are crucial, donors at all levels have enabled us to achieve our goals.

And it’s not just about the money. It’s about building partnerships, becoming ambassadors and volunteers — giving back time and talent.

Often it is the donors themselves who have the ideas. An example is a City Leadership internship programme in London and a similar one in New York set up by graduates and friends who wanted to provide our talented students with the opportunity of experience outside Northern Ireland.

Most importantly, donors give to universities that solve problems rather than those that have problems.

They are attracted by innovation, excellence and energy and their gifts help drive these qualities. They are inspired to give. The donors to Riddel Hall, including the companies who form the Founders’ Club recognised that the Leadership Institute and Management School could address the future problems faced by the local economy.

Our new fundraising campaign will address global problems ranging from cybersecurity to green chemistry and from food security to medicine.

But most importantly it will support the life-changing experience at Queen’s that will enable today’s students to become tomorrow’s global citizens. Philanthropy on all levels will enable us to achieve remarkable results faster than would otherwise be possible.

Norma Sinte is director of development and alumni at Queen’s University

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