From an initial target of ‘only’ $400 million, the success of The University of Melbourne Believe campaign now means its sights are set on raising an incredible $1 billion by 2021! Plus it won Most Outstanding Fundraising Project and Capital Campaigns Over $5 Million awards.


fia awards 2017 believeA major philanthropic undertaking such as Believe – the Campaign for The University of Melbourne had not been tackled by the institution in over 50 years.

“Of course, there were challenges in setting up the infrastructure required for such a major philanthropic undertaking. Gaining the support of senior leaders in the University, having open and honest conversations with potential donors, staffing an advancement office and building a supportive regular donor pool from our alumni community all took time and resources,” explains Director of Development Alex Furman.

The leadership shown by Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis AC and Campaign Chair Allan Myers AC QC were crucial to its success. “Their enthusiasm and drive in setting a strong vision galvanised people across the University’s community to get involved with the campaign and helped set up the advancement office,” says Furman. “You need overt leadership support otherwise a campaign such as this cannot flourish.”

Raising the stakes

The initial target of $400 million was established through insights gained from two feasibility studies and expert work carried out by the advancement research team into the philanthropic capacity of the University’s donor pool. The ‘quiet’ phase of the campaign commencing in 2008 with a planned public launch in May 2013

“Initially, $400 million was thought to be a very bold aspiration,” says Furman. “However, because of the very positive responses and pledges by wonderfully generous donors prior to the public launch, confidence was raised and the campaign board, University executive and advancement leadership believed it was possible to raise the target to $500 million.”

This new target was established in the months before the launch and was reached two years earlier than projected, at the end 2015, when the initial plan for the campaign was for it to run through to 2017. Then, in March 2016, the University announced the campaign would be extended again, with a new goal of $1 billion to be raised, and an additional new goal – a first for any Australian institution – of 100,000 alumni engaged.

It’s therefore no wonder the University is the winner of the Most Outstanding Fundraising Project and the Capital Campaigns Over $5 Million categories in the 2017 Fundraising Institute Australia awards program – and especially so as the University may well meet its $1 billion target by 2021.

Creating a believable campaign

Believe – the Campaign for The University of Melbourne was launched to support the University’s strategic goals, as outlined in its Growing Esteem strategy: to produce groundbreaking research, deliver world-class teaching and connect with the community, alumni and advocates around the world.

These overarching goals were the basis for the case for support that was developed. The University recognised in its Growing Esteem strategy that changes to traditional funding sources meant universities needed to consider new sources of investment if they wanted to continue to have an impact on society. Believe was created to articulate the University’s goals and impact and could be used in line with its existing branding.

“The word Believe, in which the letter ‘i’ is highlighted, permitted individual stories to drive the narrative. It was flexible in design, allowing our academic divisions and partners to identify and promote priorities relevant to them in a series of single line statements, such as, I believe the future is in the hands of today’s researchers. It also acted to provide a unified identity for all acts of philanthropy related to the University and resonated with major donors, who felt they were contributing to a greater vision,” explains Furman.

An exceptional case for support and more

An extensive number of campaign materials were developed, including an overarching campaign case for support addressing the major themes of research, teaching, learning and engagement. Cases for support were also produced that addressed the strategic needs of each faculty and other bodies associated with the University.

The approach to the campaign was to be donor led. If a donor identified an area of interest, the University could respond and produce a case that outlined the impact that philanthropic support would have in the donor’s area of passion. “The University is fortunate as the broad range of disciplines in academic teaching, research and engagement means we can address issues ranging from major health initiatives in cancer to climate change to the humanities and performing arts,” explains Furman.

The campaign chair, board members and vice-chancellor, as well as deans and many other members of the University community, were personally involved in many meetings with donors, and all provided advocacy and leadership: one of the hallmarks of success of the campaign says Furman

Promotional feature

A range of campaign events were held, locally, nationally and internationally, to engage both alumni and friends. These were frequently hosted by the campaign chair and the vice-chancellor. The broad case for support, as well as cases that would appeal to individual constituencies, were made depending on the type of event. For example, events for the medical community focused on health and medical research initiatives.

“Any prospective donors were always followed up by advancement staff, often in collaboration with volunteers from the campaign board or the University. Face-to-face meetings were key to this engagement, and 800 to 1,000 face-to-face meetings have consistently been held each year since the public launch in 2013,” says Furman.

The University’s annual appeal, which encompasses direct mail, EDMs and telethon programs, was an essential component of the campaign. The key direct mail appeal was the end-of-tax-year appeal, which was mailed to approximately 40,000 supporters. It resulted in over 16,500 donors donating over $18.5 million to the campaign.

The telethon was run in-house by the University. Following a rigorous recruitment process, the callers were provided with extensive training and then employed directly by the University. “We have gradually built the program to around 20 weeks of calling activity each year. Around 25 staff are employed in it and, to date, $955,000 has been raised from 4,930 donors,” explains Furman. “The telethon has been an important program to acquire new donors. It also provides our student callers with an opportunity to engage with our alumni, learn from their experiences and introduce the idea of how philanthropic support makes a difference.”

Who were the donors?

While the University had a large database on which to draw from as a foundation for prospective fundraising activity, the campaign has seen very generous support from the wider community, with a 60/40 split between alumni and non-alumni donors.

There were many new donors, particularly at the major gift and principal gift level, who had not given to the University previously. Furman feels this reflects the relevance of the case for support and the capacity of the University to deliver outcomes that positively impact the whole community.

Beyond individual gifts, the campaign received funds from philanthropic foundations based in Australia and overseas. Trust and foundation support was important and some major foundations based in Australia contributed generously. The University, because of its US and UK Foundations, could receive tax-deductible gifts from foundations based in both countries.

“So many extraordinary people, institutions and companies have given to the campaign at all levels,” says Furman. “It has been a privilege to witness the response by these individual and organisational donors to the case for support, and to have been the beneficiary of such generosity.”

Recognition, naming rights and more

The campaign focused on strengthening donor relations and stewardship programming, and building recognition programs. This allowed the advancement team to steward over 20,000 donors of all levels from across the globe.

Naming rights were granted for donations to buildings, for example the new Melbourne School of Design building and Conservatorium building both attracted naming rights for spaces. Academic chairs (professorial positions) likewise were granted naming rights with over 24 named chairs being created in the first phase of the campaign. Individual donors were recognised on honour boards in faculties and other parts of the University.

The University also:

• Published an annual report to all donors who contributed.
• Produced close to 300 individually tailored endowment reports each year for the major donor community, reporting on endowments created by major gifts.  
• Sought to keep donors engaged with the University, long after their gifts were made, for example through invitations to faculty events to meet the recipients of their giving.
• Committed to the highest levels of donor stewardship by adhering to the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee Code of Practice for Australian Philanthropy.
• Through the establishment of The University of Melbourne Foundation, which is committed to responsible management and oversight of the gifts it receives, built donor stewardship into the University’s governance structure.
• Reported annually to council and donors on the overall management and administration of income through the Foundation.

Looking ahead

“In 2016, our Vice-Chancellor announced a second phase of the campaign, with an aim of raising $1 billion by 2021 and engaging 100,000 alumni in the process. To our knowledge, it is the largest-ever fundraising commitment for an Australian institution, and the largest public university philanthropic campaign ever conducted in the Asia-Pacific region,” says Furman.

“This target reflects the University’s deep and abiding belief in the role of a university as a public institution that must have mutually beneficial relationships with the wider society. Our alumni community, students, teaching and research work can, and must, help create economic, social and cultural value.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 10.45.04 amSuccess factors and key learnings

The campaign’s success arose from:

• excellent leadership across all aspects of campaign strategy and management
• a strong strategy backed up by a well-executed operational plan
• a powerful case for support
• outstanding fundraising staff
• meeting KPIs, particularly in terms of income raised and performance targets
• building a culture of philanthropy both within and outside the institution, and participating in demonstrating the power of fundraising for higher education within the sector
• most importantly, the support from the wide community of donors and engaged participants.

Some of the key learnings are:

• strong institutional and donor support and engagement is needed, and needs to be quantified and evaluated prior to launching through a feasibility study
• volunteer leadership is essential
• the inspiration and leadership of the vice-chancellor and executive staff of the university is key
• a comprehensive campaign plan and strategy is essential to set out the ‘roadmap’ to success
• success is dependent on the skills and commitment of fundraising staff – much effort went into recruiting excellent people and ensuring the appropriate support, training and development was provided to allow them to be successful in their roles.



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