16 Jan 2013

International fundraising starts at home

FundingAre you a university administrator who has repeatedly been told that the days of funding certainty are now over and that you need to look elsewhere for funds? Have you already had discussions about looking abroad because the state sector has no money and local sources of funding (national research agencies, foundations, corporations, etc) cannot be relied upon? Have you wondered how you should begin fundraising from international sources while having no prior exposure in this world?

If your answer was positive to at least one of the questions above, read on: this blog post is designed to provide you with some useful ideas to improve your fundraising ability.

Identify your strengths

Looking for funding outside national boundaries has been done successfully by many universities. In fact, internationally raised money often accounts for a significant percentage of university incomes. However, getting there is often a long process that usually starts with an internal exercise of identifying your institutions’ strengths: the unique selling points that make your institution attractive to international partners and grant-giving organisations. Does your institution have a reputation for excelling in sciences? Does it have strong ties with industry? Does it have a successful life-long learning strategy? Does it offer a niche programme (be it forestry, Jewish studies or university management)? Is it perhaps embedded in the local/regional community and can it exploit this particular institutional profile? Identifying the unique features that make your institution attractive is crucial for ‘selling’ your expertise to partners and eventually to donors and funding agencies.

Build alliances

International fundraising (especially for beginners) is often done in partnership with other institutions that get together as consortia complementing each other’s selling points. These consortia can enter calls for applications or bids for projects launched by international funding agencies. However, identifying the right partners and negotiating each partner’s role could require significant investments in both time and human resources so your institution needs to be prepared to dedicate adequate resources to this endeavour.

So how should you go about getting in touch with potential partners? This is often best done at faculty level. Professors have access to academic networks and tend to be more mobile than administrators: they travel to conferences, workshops and seminars more frequently than administrators do, hence faculty are often crucial in identifying international partners.

Make sure it can be done internally

It’s all well and good jumping into the world of international fundraising full of enthusiasm and ambition, but you need to ensure your institution has the staff capable of managing the process. Often neglected by ambitious university leaders with an international fundraising vision is the fact that a lot of work needs to be done internally to make sure the institution can successfully apply for, access and manage international funds. Your institution should be prepared for the following:

  • Setting up fundraising and grant management offices staffed with qualified people fluent in English and/or other foreign languages, preferably with grant-writing or fundraising experience. Such qualified people are not always easy to recruit, and they do not come cheap.
  • Training a wide section of administrators (grants managers, accountants, lawyers) and putting in place procedures for processing international grants and contracts. Attention needs to be paid to issues such as:
    • Establishing the tax provisions applicable to donations and grants; VAT-related issues applicable to invoicing for services to a foreign partner such as conference organisation; payment methods available in each country (for instance, in Hungary ‘debit notes’ cannot be issued).
    • Language(s) in which contracts need to be written and the jurisdiction applied in case of litigation. For instance, bi-lingual contracts are the norm in my university, Central European University, Hungary. Lawyers here insist that Hungarian should be the main language of litigation and that Hungarian jurisdiction should prevail, however this does not fit well with some partners who insist on English being the language used, therefore, bi-lingual contracts are required.
    • The procedure of accepting and managing grants: who can sign contracts and grant letters, how often is that person around and how long does it take to have documents signed? How many steps does it take internally to manage such grants and/or donations?
    • In certain countries, universities cannot have separate bank accounts for different university entities – ‘the single university account rule’ – which often makes the management of ear-marked grants or donations very difficult and could raise transparency concerns with donors. One potential solution could be to set up independent entities affiliated with the university but not officially part of it (research centres, foundations and even separate companies) that could be the recipients of those grants and payments for which monitoring and payment requires a higher degree of transparency.

Don’t delay!

In order to catch up with more experienced universities that have long worked on their ambitions to fundraise internationally, you should get started as soon as possible. It takes time to become competitive internationally and a lot of institutions have similar plans. The pool of international donors or grant giving organisations is unlikely to expand significantly over the next years but the mere fact that you are reading this article now shows that the number of universities interested in these resources is certainly on the rise.

By Pusa Nastase, Senior Program Manager, Center for Higher Education Policy, School of Public Policy, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary