The Tempinis diaries

December 15, 2008

Thinking out of the Box: Fund Raising for University of Malaya

Filed under: education, malaysia — Tags: , , , , — toru @ 2:35 pm

The new Vice Chancellor, Ghauth Jasmon has an unenviable task of taking over as the head of University of Malaya. His job is made more difficult by the fact that University of Malaya was not chosen by the Malaysian government as an apex university. In the exercise of choosing the apex university, UM was pipped by USM. The apex university status is especially crucial because it comes with extra funding. In this era, lack of funding usually spells disaster for an institute of higher education as the institution cannot afford to recruit the best and brightest staff and also foot the costs of labs and cutting edge research.

So is this the death knell of UM as the premier institution in Malaysia? It does seem so. Without the extra funding, it is inevitable that USM will overtake UM. The Vice Chancellor, Ghauth Jasmon needs to do something really drastic to turn things around.

One idea is to think out of the box. If the government will not fund UM adequately, Ghauth Jasmon should think of going to the alumni to raise funds. Of course, you can’t start asking alumni for money out of the blue. UM should begin by building a competent alumni office headed by someone with good contacts. Efforts of reconnecting with alumni must be made. An attractive and credible alumni magazine needs to be published; class reunions should be held. The alumni office should then approach the alumni members for donations. Alumni especially older ones are usually generous during class reunions when they recall the good old days. I am sure that many UM alumni would donate generously to their alma mater if the rallying cry for the donation is to keep UM as the premier institution in the country. Judging from the experience of the Singaporean universities like Nanyang and NUS, the task of fund raising is difficult but not impossible. Perhaps, ‘a rombongan sambil belajar’ across the causeway should be made soon?

In Asia, American-Style Fund Raising Takes Off The Chronicle of Higher Education December 5, 2008 Friday

Copyright 2008 The Chronicle of Higher Education
All Rights Reserved
The Chronicle of Higher Education

December 5, 2008 Friday


LENGTH: 2003 words

HEADLINE: In Asia, American-Style Fund Raising Takes Off


DATELINE: Singapore


Until last month, the development office at Nanyang Technical University was hidden away in a forgotten part of the sprawling Singaporean campus. The building was dated and the air-conditioning was cranky — a description that could also have summed up the university’s fund-raising efforts and its alumni.

Marina Tan Harper, director of the university’s brand-new development office, toiled in obscurity with her tiny staff. Few understood what the American fund raiser had been hired to do. Even fewer thought raising money from alumni made any sense. After all, in 2005, the year Ms. Harper was hired, just 143 out of 90,000 alumni had made contributions to their alma mater.

“Singapore is very first world, but the funding for universities is very third world,” says Ms. Harper, referring to the reliance on the government to finance higher education. “Literally, the concepts have to be taught.”

Teaching alumni why they need to give — and making giving easy to do — is what Ms. Harper set out to accomplish. And last year more than 4,000 graduates opened their checkbooks, helping the university raise $27-million, largely for its endowment. No one is asking what a development office does anymore.

This month the director, who used to run the development office at Northern Kentucky University, moved her staff of 21 out of their old digs and into the newest building on the campus. Today they sit at brand new desks working shiny new phones. Here at the heart of the campus, the air-conditioning never breaks down, and it is always a perfect 69.8 degrees.

Nanyang is just one of dozens of Asian universities adopting American-style fund raising. The institutions are opening development offices, hiring professional fund raisers, investing in slick billion-dollar campaigns, and trotting out their presidents to pass the hat, tactics unknown here a decade ago.

“America is seen as the gold standard,” says Michael Pettis, a former Bear Stearns managing director who teaches finance at Peking University, in Beijing. “The universities are very busy trying to replicate American institutions, including raising money.”

‘Low-Hanging Fruit’

Compared with top American universities, with their development staffs of hundreds and their campaigns for billions, these efforts may seem anemic. But in a part of the world where universities have only recently started asking for money, they are anything but.

Despite the global economic downturn, there is so much money out there that “it’s a case of low-hanging fruit,” says K.C. Chew, who opened the first development office at the National University of Singapore in 2003. “There has been pent-up supply. For the most part, nobody had asked.” In the first year of operation, no one knew how much they should try to raise, recalls Mr. Chew. So the university arbitrarily set its annual goal at $7-million. His office brought in 11 times that amount.

In just five years, the university has brought in $1-billion with government matching dollars, says Mr. Chew, who recently returned to the private sector. “That’s an astonishing achievement by any standard.”

But it is not just how much universities are raising that is challenging old stereotypes about philanthropy in Asia. It is also how the universities are doing it.

In the past, universities that did any fund raising at all tended to go after a few big fish. But they are increasingly starting to look to their alumni. Development offices — a new concept here — are building alumni lists, courting graduates, and establishing annual-giving programs. One university is even connecting with recent alumni on Facebook. Last year the U.S.-based Council for Advancement and Support of Education, which advises those who work in alumni relations, marketing, and fund raising at universities, opened an Asia-Pacific office. Until recently, soliciting donations for higher education was practically unheard of in Asia. From China to India, paying for universities has been the state’s responsibility. That has created an expectation that the state is always going to be there to write the checks, even though in many countries the amount allocated per student has been falling for a decade.

The notable exception is the Philippines, where many of the universities are run by priests and nuns, says Mayan G. Quebral, executive director of the Venture for Fund Raising, a philanthropic consultancy in Manila. “The power of prayer is their fund-raising strategy,” sighs Ms. Quebral. “God will provide.”

Asia’s public universities are often seen as yet another government bureaucracy. When asking for money, fund raisers say the first response is always, “Isn’t that the government’s job?” After students graduate they have little affinity for their alma maters. Students tend not to live on the campuses or participate in team sports — experiences that help cement a life-long relationship with an institution. For many, donating to a university is akin to giving money to the government.

In some countries, corruption and mismanagement are so endemic that writing a check for higher education is considered foolish. Most universities in India are appallingly run, says Ramanan Raghavendran, a founder of Kubera Partners, a New York equity firm that invests in India. Mr. Raghavendran grew up in New Delhi but chose to attend an American university, which he regularly contributes to. Though he gives money to several children’s charities in India, he said it would be a waste to donate to an Indian university.

“The quality of the education is terrible,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “So the issue is not so much ‘transparency,’ the issue is that it might be simpler for them to just set fire to a fistful of rupees than to give to a university.” Money in Asia has traditionally been kept within the family, which may also lead to a reluctance to give to a public institution.

The suggestion that some Asian ethnic groups, the Chinese in particular, are simply unwilling to share their wealth is scoffed at. “There is no lack of a giving culture, there is a lack of asking,” says Ricky M. Cheng, director of the office of institutional advancement at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Chinese people are not used to being asked for money. Westerners are very straightforward: ‘Hey, I need your help.’ But if you ask a Chinese the right way, they will give.”

Creating a Culture of Asking

Universities increasingly understand that if you are ever truly going to be internationally competitive you have to raise your own money, says Krista Slade, executive director of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s Asia-Pacific office, in Singapore. The huge endowments raised by U.S. universities are one of the reasons they are consistently rated the top in the world, says Ms. Slade. In cultures where education is so highly prized, donors pay attention to that notion.

Ironically, when it comes to creating a culture of giving in Asia — or institutionalizing the giving habits that already exist — government has been the greatest engine of change.

A few years ago, Singapore instituted a matching program, in which the government gives $3 for every $1 provided by a donor, up to the first $330-million. It spurred a flurry of activity at the country’s three universities. Hong Kong’s 1-to-1 matching program, begun in 2003, made no less of an impact.

The program spurred universities to set up development offices, says Mr. Cheng. Programs were professionalized and conducted more efficiently, he says. Following the American model, annual-giving drives were started. The results were even ranked and publicized, which encouraged competition among the universities.

“There was a lot of attention from the community, and as a result the community responded,” Mr. Cheng added. “It created a culture of philanthropy toward higher education in Hong Kong.” Donations to Mr. Cheng’s Chinese University of Hong Kong came to $28-million last year.

Another turning point was Li Ka Shing’s $128-million gift to the University of Hong Kong’s medical school in 2005. It remains the largest gift ever given to a higher-education institution in Asia. The donation from one of Asia’s richest businessmen set off a flurry of other gifts large and small.

In China, top-tier universities, notably Fudan, Peking, and Tsinghua, have started to seek private funds aggressively. There, too, Hong Kong Chinese have been the most generous donors, with business tycoons making their mark on the mainland by donating tens of millions of dollars to build new libraries and classrooms. Seeing the money that can be raised, lesser-known universities are starting to test the waters. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education gets so many inquiries from Chinese universities that it now has a fact sheet it sends out in Mandarin.

But all too often, universities want a quick fix. Putting together an alumni network is time-consuming and expensive, says Mr. Pettis of Peking University. And after you get the names on the list, alumni must be courted. That takes time and money. It may be years before universities see any returns on their investment.

Universities think they can raise large amounts of money from a few donors, says Ms. Quebral of the Venture for Fund Raising, in Manila. “They are still of the notion, ‘Why do I have to bother with 100,000 alumni who would give $25 each when I could focus on 10 people and assign a single faculty member to focus on them?'” she says. “They are looking for easier ways. But it’s close-minded.”

She concedes she is dumbfounded by her own alma mater, the University of the Philippines. “The alumni are their gold mine, but they have not taken advantage of that,” she says. “I’ve never received anything from them except a newsletter, which is a year old, and I’ve never been asked” for money.

A small but growing number of universities understand that they have to cultivate future donors by teaching them the importance of giving while they are still students. Singapore Management University, a private institution founded in 2000, has been grooming future students to give from Day 1. This past June, half of the graduating class donated to the scholarship fund, and the university already has a $325-million endowment.

From Global to Local

Despite the vast wealth here, fund raisers still look to graduates living in the United States and Canada for donations. Ironically, for many, it is the first place they turn.

“Our success has been minimal in Malaysia, to be honest,” says Joseph S. Beyel, director of development for the University of Nottingham, which has a campus just outside Kuala Lumpur. The return on their investment has so far been poor. Far wiser, he says, is to tap alumni in the United States.

Catherine Yang, a newly hired manager of development at Sun Yat-Sen University, in Guangzhou, China, agrees. She believes it is easier to start with alumni associations overseas because they are more familiar with the culture of giving. “They have the mind-set of giving back to the university,” says Ms. Yang, who spent several years as a fund raiser for York University, in Toronto. “But in the long run, because the majority of our alumni are in China, we need to focus on local fund raising.”

The global economic downturn has, of course, set off alarm bells. But there is consensus among fund raisers that universities must keep up relationships with graduates.

“More than ever you have to be in contact with your donors and be up front with how the endowment is doing,” says Ms. Slade. “This is not the time to be pulling back.”

Ultimately, American universities that have done well have done so because of the quality of the relationships they have developed, says Ms. Slade.

“Universities in Asia that are able to do that will succeed,” she insists. “It is all about building that rapport, communicating in a regular and consistent way about what the university is doing, and reporting back what they are doing with the money.”

But first, Ms. Slade reminds her members, you have to ask.

LOAD-DATE: December 2, 2008


  1. […] with the alumni. I have written before on how important it is to re-connect with the alumni before here. I wonder whether my musings on this modest blog had some influence on this latest move by […]

    Pingback by UM Launches Alumni Chapter In Singapore « The Tempinis diaries — March 2, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

  2. Thanks for your insight here – I know that Prof Jamilah Ali and her team in the Alumni Unit at UM are working hard to have a stronger connection with graduates and the wider community. Our next big CASE conference will be in KL from March 24 -2 6, 2010.

    Comment by Krista Slade — March 6, 2009 @ 12:23 am

  3. Thanks for dropping by Krista. Are you working with UM? And please tell me more about the CASE conference.

    Comment by toru — March 7, 2009 @ 2:42 am

  4. Don’t be cheapskate like Rauzah Hashim collecting RM2-donations from one cent bookmarks during PECIPTA and jamuan Hari Raya in the department! So embarrassing! UM should get its funding from real Scientific research works.

    Comment by Danny — December 27, 2009 @ 9:00 am

    • Danny,

      The collection was donated away for a good cause. The one-sen bookmark was to show how to transform one sen 100 times its value. What is the value of your comment here? I wonder if any.

      Comment by lady — April 27, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

  5. Danny,
    The one sen coin was sold for charity not for UM but to be donated away. It was never intended as a charity collection to raise fund for UM. Check your fact correctly. At least she demonstrated by using a simple almost forgotten science, one sen can be turn into “gold” worth 100x its original value. Next time boy, check your fact else exposing your own lack of knowledge.


    Comment by Reply-to=Danny — April 24, 2010 @ 12:17 am

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