Universities told to “rethink” ineffective telephone fundraising

Image credit: Steven Depolo

Universities must “rethink” the way they raise money as telephone campaigns become an increasingly ineffective means of fundraising, an academic summit has heard.

Martin Shell, the vice-president for development at Stanford University, told the Times Higher Education conference that, although telephone campaigns have been “amazingly successful” over the last four decades, graduates have said they would prefer to donate when they choose rather than being contacted by the university.

He said, “Five years ago, for every eight successful phone calls we made, we had one person say ‘please take me off your call list’; in the last two years it went to three to one.”

Universities must emphasise their ability to create impact “in a way that so many other places may not”, he continued.

However Julie Hooper, vice-chancellor of university development and alumni relations at the University of California, Berkeley, where the conference was held, said that millenials “don’t necessarily see elite institutions as the way to have the impact”.

Shell and Hooper agreed that a cross-disciplinary, collaborative approach would be the most successful way to raise money, citing Stanford’s and Berkeley’s participation in Mark Zuckerberg and paediatrician Priscilla Chan’s $600 million medical project Biohub as a “model for [...] future philanthropic efforts at this level.”

This comes as the University of Cambridge continues to celebrate its “most successful fundraising year ever”, so far raising over £210 million. This figure has been bolstered by numerous generous donations, including a £35 million benefaction to Pembroke College, the largest ever single donation to the University.

Telephone campaigns remain integral to college fundraising efforts, with both Girton and Fitzwilliam reporting record-breaking levels of donations raised by their 2016 campaigns.

A student caller from Christ’s said, ‘Most people I’ve spoken to have been really glad to take the call and hear about what’s going in college. I think Cambridge’s collegiate aspect gives us a massive advantage compared to American and other British universities when it comes to this issue.’

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