A life-changing gift: Fundraising for Widening Participation intiatives

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In this post, David Haines, Head of Philanthropy, University Programmes at the University of Edinburgh, highlights how their fundraising strategy for institutional projects includes a specific focus on Widening Participation…

Since joining Edinburgh, a few people have told me that they have the best job in the University. They are all wrong – because, in fact, I do.

Based in the Development & Alumni office, I lead on the University’s fundraising strategy for institutional initiatives, chief among which is Widening Participation (WP). I spend a lot of my working week as the conduit between a community of people who give to WP programmes – most of whom are former students themselves – and the scholars who benefit from their support.

Asking graduates to give back to their alma mater is by no means a new idea; in fact, the practice of making a gift to your old University has increasingly become a considered and thoughtful part of the alumni experience in the UK. Put simply, a large and growing number of alumni want to make their experience at Edinburgh more attainable for someone who might otherwise miss out – and, in doing, so create an environment for learning and teaching that is more representative of the world we live in.

My colleagues and I are rightly asked challenging and thought-provoking questions every day: How will you spend my money? How do you know that it’s really needed? What’s my gift going to achieve? For people considering a gift to a WP project, the answers to those questions are straightforward and compelling:

  • We spend the money on students: A huge advantage of our University’s commitment to this agenda is that every penny donated to us can go directly to helping a student for whom tertiary education might otherwise be out of reach.
  • We know our audience: Every initiative we run, whether it’s an activity day in a primary school, or a programme designed for mature students at an FE College, is based on longstanding experience and insightful partnership. Our donors know they can trust us to reach the people who need their help the most.
  • We see the impact: From long-range outcome studies to a handwritten ‘Thank you’ card from a scholarship recipient, our office works across the University to show donors the outcomes that their gifts are achieving. It’s as inspiring for us as it is for anyone else…

I’ve met donors who have been giving to Edinburgh since before our current undergraduates were born. I’ve spoken to alumni who can recall the name of every student who has ever benefitted from the scholarship that they helped to fund. And I could name half a dozen brand-name companies whose scholarship programmes at Edinburgh are among their proudest achievements. Their commitments to this agenda are based on deeply-held values: inclusion, equality, diversity, social responsibility.

Their giving is, above all, thoughtful and informed. Our alumni increasingly expect the University’s commitment to span the student journey, and we often discuss ideas beyond the provision of scholarships. We know that people from non-traditional backgrounds are less likely to apply to university, less likely to accept the offer of a place, more likely to interrupt or abandon their studies, less likely to take advantage of extra-curricular activities, and – probably most importantly – less likely to gain a graduate level job than the rest of the student population.

The four strands of the new Widening Participation strategy, and the projects that advance each of them (like YourEd, Access to the Professions, and Insights), are evidence of the depth and breadth of Edinburgh’s response to these challenges. They are ideas that interest and inspire, and it’s a privilege to represent them.

My focus now is on making the Widening Participation strategy more visible and better known to our alumni and wider community – and, in doing, so encouraging more people to make a potentially life-changing gift to Edinburgh. Our institutional commitment to this agenda, coupled with the human stories we hear every day from our students and staff, make for a message that deserves to be heard, understood, and advanced through philanthropy by our global network.

And it’s my job to help make that happen.

Best job in the University? No question.

David Haines

David is Head of Philanthropy, University Programmes, at the University of Edinburgh. His fundraising remit spans strategic priorities across the University, and he leads on a number of themes that describe our institutional mission and values – chief among which is widening participation. David and his team work with ‘major gift’ donors to Edinburgh, whose contributions can (and often do) achieve transformational impact through research and education. David started his fundraising career at youth charity, Venture Trust, before moving into HE at the University of Stirling. He joined Edinburgh in early 2019 from the Development office of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Please don’t ask him if he’s missing the weather. He would love to talk to you about how philanthropy is widening participation at Edinburgh (and achieving lots else besides)- his email is david.haines@ed.ac.uk.

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