As Coronavirus storm clouds gathered, University of Melbourne fundraisers rolled up their sleeves and got to work raising funds to fight the global pandemic. Jeremy Bradshaw tells how the University raised $16.9 million in just 10 months.

Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in the University of Melbourne is named after Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty.

In late January 2020, as news of the global spread of Coronavirus gathered momentum, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) in Melbourne became the first place outside China to successfully grow the virus from a patient sample in the laboratory. This was a breakthrough that provided researchers around the world with crucial information to help combat the virus.

The Doherty Institute is a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Hospital. As the whirlwind of Coronavirus news and lockdowns engulfed Australia in March, the University of Melbourne quickly considered how else it could have an impact in addressing the impending Coronavirus calamity.

Leaders at The Doherty decided there were three key areas the institution could do something immediately, namely: undertake research into better diagnostic practices; explore treatment possibilities; and develop a vaccine.

All of these came under the remit of The Doherty Institute, which had no fundraising staff at the time, so the University development team swung into action.

Allison Howell-Quinton, Deputy Director of Development, was diverted from her usual international role and tasked with heading up the University’s Coronavirus fundraising efforts, centering on the work of The Doherty Institute.

“A team of fundraising specialists from across the University and Hospital were quickly assembled and tasked with finding the financial support for the Doherty Institute’s essential work,” Howell-Quinton said. “These seconded staff coordinated approaches to potential donors, stewarded gifts and reported back to donors.”

Another significant challenge to fundraising was securing the time and buy-in from the researchers themselves.

“The researchers were crucial to explaining to potential donors how their work would assist in the battle against Coronavirus, but doing this obviously took valuable time away from the critical task of actually finding a vaccine and other Coronavirus-related work,” she said.

One person who quickly emerged as a natural fundraiser was Professor Sharon Lewin, AO, Director of the Doherty Institute. “Sharon is amazing,” Howell-Quinton said. “Not only a world-class infectious diseases expert, she is also brilliant in talking with potential donors in lay terms about The Doherty Institute’s work. Her well-tuned emotional intelligence was critical to ‘making the ask’ with donors.

Of course engaging with donors was no easy task at this time because the country had gone into lockdown. However Zoom came to the rescue. The University set up private Zoom briefings between researchers and groups of potential donors. These were ‘exclusive’ occasions for the inner sanctum. However, in a bid to widen the pool of potential support, donors were sometimes encouraged to invite their friends or colleagues to attend some of these presentations.

In fact the Doherty Institute’s namesake, Nobel Prize winner Laureate Professor Peter Doherty AC, was occasionally a presenter. And in a very special briefing, Dr Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the United States, gave a Zoom presentation to 300 of the University’s most important stakeholders.

“It’s also a great reminder that as fundraisers, we act as brokers of donor motivations and institutional priorities…”

Howell-Quinton said the opportunity to be involved in fundraising for Coronavirus-related activities has been a career highlight.

“It’s intense but very satisfying. I think all of us who are working on COVID fundraising see it as a career highlight. It’s rewarding to be part of this urgent work that is helping people here and now.

“It’s also a great reminder that as fundraisers, we act as brokers of donor motivations and institutional priorities … we have that privilege to help translate opportunities for philanthropy into real-world outcomes. Working together as a team has reinforced that fostering relationships is a critical responsibility we all have in philanthropy.”

In all, 282 donors have supported Coronavirus-related research and projects so far. Ten gave over $500,000 each, and 260 gave $10,000 or under, with a total of $16.9 million raised.

Leading donors to the University of Melbourne’s Coronavirus fundraising effort

Paul Ramsay Foundation $4.1 million
Jack Ma Foundation $3.2 million
Anthony Pratt and The Pratt Foundation $1 million
The a2 Milk Company $480,000
Minderoo Foundation $1 million
J and M Wright Foundation $100,000
BHP Foundation $1 million
Macquarie Group Foundation $1 million
Tik Tok $3 million
Anonymous donors $1.3 million


Jeremy Bradshaw is the founder and Publisher if F&P.






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