Robert Fleming, director of development, standing in front of the Development Office at 91 North Street
Robert Fleming, director of development, standing in front of the Development Office at 91 North Street

With a full-time staff of 32, including a member in England and the United States, St Andrews’ director of development is leading a major international operation to fundraise for the University.

Their 600th anniversary goal is to raise £100 million by 2016. To date, they have raised £41.48 million of this goal. Getting to this target will undoubtedly be an uphill challenge since this is the Development Office’s most ambitious campaign in recent memory. “For us to get to our 2016 goal, we’ll have to raise the same amount of money in three years as has been raised in the eight years to now. There’s a big task ahead but the curve is going in that direction, if we have to extend [past 2016] a little bit then so be it.” Fleming is hopeful that this year funding will pass the halfway mark. Last year alone, his team raised about £9 million. He added, “There’s no time like the present to give.”

[pullquote]St Andrews’ participation rate of 9.6 per cent is the third highest in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge [/pullquote]

While £100 million may sound like a lofty goal, St Andrews has a relatively small endowment as compared to other ancient universities and any university in the US.

“You can say with some confidence even without knowing the exact number of other institutions’ endowments that ours is tiny in comparison – £40 million or so after 600 years is small by anybody’s standards really. I think that one of the astonishing things about St Andrews is that it’s such a highly regarded university with such high standards in countless league tables and that’s despite the value of the endowment – not because of the value of the endowment.”

Fleming looks towards US state universities as a barometer for his fundraising as recommended to UK universities by the 2005 Thomas Report. Most US state universities have approximately 20 per cent alumni participation which would be a “good goal for St Andrews.” However, when comparing the university’s fundraising to other UK universities, “We’ve done well by UK standards.” St Andrews’ participation rate of 9.6 per cent is the third highest in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge and the university is about a third of the size of most other universities in the UK. Most US universities, along with Oxford and Cambridge, have been fundraising for decades longer than St Andrews so the university is playing a bit of a catch-up game.

[pullquote]You can say with some confidence, even without knowing the exact number of other institutions’ endowments, that ours is tiny in comparison. I think that one of the astonishing things about St Andrews is that it’s such a highly regarded university with such high standards in countless league tables and that’s despite the value of the endowment – not because of the value of the endowment [/pullquote]

The challenge for UK fundraising is tackling the notion that the government will fund any shortfalls in university campaigns or budgets. “We’re on a cultural change that’s been happening since the late seventies; as plural funding models started to come in, states started retracting funds – the reality is we need to open up more fundraising to make the University and the sector more sustainable.” Over the past couple of decades, funding has improved year after year so the sector is moving in the right direction.

Many institutions find it difficult to keep students involved and active with the university once they graduate. Fleming said that he does not struggle with these issues as most universities do, stating, “I think there’s something particularly special about St Andrews alumni compared to other alumni I’ve seen across the UK.”

Examples of St Andrews’ active alumni are the many events the London Alumni Club hosts annually, including the very impressive service at St Paul’s Cathedral last December that was attended by more than 2,400 people. “We broke records last year in alumni participation…class gift…and in student participation as well.”

St Andrews’ active student and alumni communities have been a major selling point for receiving donations from major donors. The top ten per cent of donors to St Andrews make a huge difference to funding, but the overall volume of donors is critical to their desire to give. According to Fleming, a high volume of donors “gives large donors comfort.”

As a final topic, we discussed the very busy schedule that he maintains as director of development. Fleming travels frequently throughout term time including trips, sometimes just for a day, to London two to three times a month, short trips to Edinburgh, and trips to the US two to three times a year. Additionally, his days in St Andrews are filled with Skype calls and conferences to assess development progress and keep strong connections with St Andrews alumni.

As a parting note, Robert Fleming wanted to get the message across to students that they should always remain active both at and after St Andrews. What students are doing now “for class gift and the phone campaign bodes well for when you go out and have successful careers and we hope that you remember Development when you’re on the other side doing well.”

Photo: Maria Faciolince

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