With the latest news regarding the pandemic – the new COVID-19 variants, what we are witnessing in India and other parts of the world, the reality of the pandemic and its devastation continues, the fluctuating and changing pandemic restrictions, and the varying success of the vaccination programs. It can all feel overwhelming and our work in philanthropy can start to feel overwhelming too. As we question if we are taking the right actions? If we are adding to the noise or making a real difference? The good news is academic institutions are at the heart of making a difference during the pandemic. There are important lessons which have come out of the pandemic for higher education organisations, lessons which are important to keep top of mind as we continue to move forward, and lessons which will continue to be as important post-pandemic as they were during.


  • Increasing inequalities in society – most people have less, does that mean they will give less or step up to give more?
  • Evolving picture for regional, national v. international philanthropy – with risk of losing momentum in building international relationships.
  • Asian philanthropy still key – $2 trillion transfer to the NextGen, younger philanthropists.
  • Long-term relationships are essential in spite of political retrenching.
  • Philanthropy has a critical role in redefining the new world, our global connections, and the way we collaborate and support each other.
  • Traditional boundaries are being redrawn between government, foundations, corporates, and individual philanthropists.
  • Philanthropy has a role in enabling institutions to adapt to the structural challenges in the delivery of higher education.
  • Increasingly crucial role for philanthropy for research to address deepening inequalities, to empower communities and diverse, underrepresented voices.
  • It’s clear that philanthropy for medical research has played and will continue to play a critical role. Philanthropy for medical research made an immense impact in our ability to tackle the science of the pandemic and in our ability to develop vaccines while collaborating across institutions around the world.


The lessons we learned during the pandemic also include our connections to our alumni and donors. How we as institutions reacted in response to COVID19 reiterated the importance of relationships in our advancement efforts. We found that organisations which practiced emotional, communicative, and creative responses during the pandemic had more success than those who were reactive, non-communicative, and retrenched into traditional ways of doing things.

At the start of the pandemic, the Global Philanthropic team came together to brainstorm how organisations could best respond to the COVID-19 crisis, we developed the following infographic from our collective experience.  Our experiences during past economic crisis’s and natural disasters taught us that authentic responses created more success for organisations versus responses which were transactional and less adaptive to the high pace changes of the time.

If we take a step back and look at the last year, our greatest lesson should be that building authentic relationships with our supporters fosters a greater philanthropic response. Research has often toted that it is easier to retain a donor than it is to cultivate a new donor, this comes down to our donor communications.


Here are some of the themes which philanthropists and your schools’ stakeholders are interested in:

  • Innovation – in responding to the pandemic and developing new models and environments for education. No longer business as usual, instead you are looking forward, not back
  • Diversity and inclusion – ensuring fairness of opportunity and access for your students, staff, and board. Sharing your commitment to hearing and acting on diverse and inclusive practices. How are you supporting your international student body and what scholarships are available or in development to create more opportunities for a diverse student body?
  • Research – that addresses our society’s deepened inequalities, which the pandemic has only made wider and brought to society’s collective conscious. How is your organisation collaborating to further research progress?
  • Commitment – Long-term commitment to engaging internationally
  • Stability – Long-term vision and strategy with strong leadership

By creating greater emphasis on deepening relationships and how you engage with your university family – students, alumni, parents, friends, donors, staff, and local communities – higher education can have an impact in:

  • Unlocking philanthropy to find solutions, to help heal our divided society
  • Setting the agenda for the post-pandemic world, for a greener, more equitable, and sustainable future
  • Developing future leaders who are global, socially responsible citizens
  • Continued collaboration in international relations, research, and in leadership

While the developments and successes of the COVID19 vaccine mean that we can start to imagine a future not long from now where in person possibilities open up again, we mustn’t forget the importance of building authentic relationships with our higher educational family. The stories and opportunities higher education can share now, can also have the same (if not more) impact when we can share them face to face. This is a time for organisations to create possibilities for philanthropists to change the world. Universities have a wealth of opportunity to open doors in multiple areas to affect a more positive future for all.

As we come out of the pandemic, it will be equally important to regroup and share our stories globally as fundraisers, philanthropists, and advancement professionals. Talking Philanthropy was one of the first opportunities to hear more about what happened in education around the world. At the forum, we hosted three university vice-chancellors who shared their stories during and convened the following experts who shared their experiences as part of an education panel (video below).

  • Kathleen Chew – Programme Director, YTL Foundation
  • Patrick Hurworth – Head of School, International School of Beijing
  • Professor Peter Mathieson – Principal and Vice-Chancellor, The University of Edinburgh
  • Harold Kim – CEO, Neo Risk Investment Advisors, Board Chair at Hong Kong International School
  • Nick Jaffer – CEO Global Philanthropic, Asia-Pacific

Higher education has demonstrated in the past year that it is a great place to make philanthropic investments. During, Talking Philanthropy there will be a clear cross-over between education and health and how philanthropy supported both in the battle against COVID-19 and in the success of the COVID-19 vaccines.

I challenge you to share a story with your community on how you’re making an impact and unlocking philanthropic opportunities towards innovation, diversity and inclusion, research, commitment, and stability. Your community wants to hear the projects your educational institution is working on and the goals you are working towards. Lastly, they want to support you both financially and through sharing your stories.