Once dismissed as an American phenomenon too crass to imitate, fund raising is being embraced by Australian universities as key to their success.
While Australia's top universities have been seeking private funds for years, many universities have taken a more aggressive approach recently. They are seeking to tap American expertise and pocketbooks, working together to educate the public about philanthropy, and exploring new ways to reach out to long-lost alumni.
Despite these new efforts, Australian university fund raisers face significant cultural barriers. The country has a long philanthropic tradition of giving to the arts and other charitable causes, but higher education is often overlooked, say experts. Australians expect the government to pick up the university tab, and students don't usually develop the strong personal connections with their universities that Americans do.
"It's a different context from the U.S., where senior family members automatically become donors to their alma maters," said Glenn Bowes, associate dean of external relations for the University of Melbourne. "Here fund raising is still the icing on the cake."
One institution that has made strides in fund raising is the University of New South Wales. Fred Hilmer, vice chancellor of the university, said that a decade ago he would have been happy if he raised $1-million in Australian dollars from donors annually. Today he gets more than ten times that.
In 2009, the UNSW Foundation, which the institution created in the late 80s. raised $14.6-million (U.S.), a 39.5-percent increase from the previous year. The university's goal is to bring in about $30-million annually within five years.
But fund-raising revenue supports only a fraction of its total budget of $1.14-billion. To increase that percentage, the foundation has built a fund-raising staff of 28 people, with one employee located in the United States and another in Hong Kong to work with alumni in those areas.
It has also tapped wealthy donors. One of the biggest supporters of New South Wales is the Lowy family, which made its money in retail outlets and gave the institution more than $8-million to build a cancer-research center.
Frank Lowy, head of the family and one of the richest men in Australia, came to the country as a Jewish refugee from the former Czechoslovakia; he never got the chance to study at the university, but his children attended New South Wales.
But developing such connections with parents and alumni is difficult in Australia.
"University is just considered a steppingstone to where you want to go," said Jennifer Bott, chief executive of the UNSW Foundation,
She said most Australians live at home during college, which means "they prefer to go to schools which are in their hometowns and never gain a sense of the identity of the university."
To counter this, she said, New South Wales is trying to instill a stronger sense of institutional "brand" or identity, which will attract students and also make them more likely to give. The university is doing this by emphasizing its academic standards, its international partnerships, and its role as a research facility that focuses on solving pressing social problems.
Defining the Terms
Bond University, in Queensland, has taken a slightly different tactic. It created a Student Philanthropy Council to raise money for the institution. The council, which is about a year old, is a voluntary group of students who sell Bond merchandise and organize events to generate donations for the university. Its goal this year is to bring in $8,000 or so.
Bond also hires students to call alumni to ask for gifts; while a common strategy in the United States, it is used infrequently in Australia.
In all, the private university of about 4,500 students collects about $3.5-million a year, a respectable amount for its modest team of six fund raisers, said Scott Bulger, Bond's director of development.
The University of Melbourne has also met with some fund-raising success recently, taking in $23-million in 2009, a 12-percent increase from the year before.
Mr. Bowes, the university's associate dean, said the institution focused on having a personal touch in its contact with donors.
"People here don't want generalized mail-outs and appeal letters. They want to be asked personally," he said. He added that Australians like to support a specific program or scholarship, rather than giving to assist the general operations of a university; they expect the government to pay for that.
The university recently hired Nancy Wells, an American fund raiser who worked at Stanford University for 11 years, to head its fund-raising office and craft appeals. She has said her first priority is to develop relations with alumni rather than start a campaign right away.
The University of Melbourne is also working with seven other large universities to help clarify philanthropy terms for donors—as well as for fund raisers themselves.
The universities plan to publish a booklet that defines the most basic terminology of charitable giving.
According to Clare Pullar, pro vice chancellor for advancement at the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, there are frequent discussions about the meanings of some key words.
For example, some universities stick to the strict definition of alumni as graduates of an institution, while others use it more broadly to mean anyone who has a relationship with a university, be it a donor, parents of a student, or others.
Such problems speak to the larger state of fund raising in Australia. Universities are growing more sophisticated and raising more money each year, but still lag behind their peers in the United States.
"It's still not the megamillions that U.S. universities are used to getting," Mr. Hilmer, of New South Wales, said about his institution's fund-raising totals. "We have a long way to go before we get there."