Philanthropy and the appetite for risk
Chris Cox, Vice-Principal Philanthropy, welcomes you to this issue of Edinburgh Friends.
The University of Edinburgh can tell inspiring stories that couldn’t be told in the first place if it weren’t for the generosity of our supporters, ranging from monthly direct debit contributions and larger endowments, to alumni who volunteer their time to mentor students. Your impact is extraordinary. The pages of this magazine prove that many times over. Thank you.
When we talk of the impact of giving, there is a crucial dimension that tends to be overlooked. We don’t tend to talk about the level of risk sometimes involved, or, indeed, the appetite for risk from donors as they consider priorities for their own generous giving.
Here at Edinburgh we take forward many programmes across campus – made possible with your support – where results can be strongly anticipated. These include supporting scholarship programmes that identify outstanding students who could not afford to either begin or finish their studies without philanthropic support (see page 12 to read the story of Teale, one of our talented MBA students). The impact on all these students is immediate and enormously powerful, backed up by the fact that graduation rates for scholarship-receiving undergraduates from less advantaged backgrounds more than meet those of their student peers at Edinburgh.
Supporting our research programmes, however, is a much more nuanced affair. The level of ‘impact risk’ for the growing body of research gifts we receive is subject to many more variables and a greater degree of uncertainty (albeit coupled with great optimism).
Like all research, if the results were known and guaranteed before the work started, it wouldn’t be proper research; we can’t guarantee results, no matter how committed our academic and wider partners are to make a difference in the world.
We can, however, safely state that all research findings accelerated by philanthropy, whether positive or negative, whether in the realm of seeking to improve public policy, or in seeking to address debilitating diseases, make an important contribution. They add to the body of publicly available knowledge from which other researchers in Edinburgh and far beyond will benefit. Gifts for research programmes open up new career-launching opportunities for PhD and postdoctoral researchers, and often help us build key international research collaborations on societal agendas that transcend national boundaries. These are real and important, if sometimes indirect, impacts provided by philanthropy.
When you read our stories about our inspiring researchers, I hope you will share our pride in the important shared sense of mission they have in their work. And, of course, philanthropic funding for research can sometimes help directly unlock transformational breakthroughs for the benefit of society. Just not every time!
We can, however, safely state that all research findings accelerated by philanthropy, whether positive or negative, whether in the realm of seeking to improve public policy, or in seeking to address debilitating diseases, make an important contribution.
Those of us lucky to work in the field of engaging donors in university programmes, whether with our students, researchers or partners, revel in discussion about their appetite for risk. However high or low that may be, and whatever their personal motivations for charitable giving based on their values, life experiences and what matters to them most in the world, we will be able to find substantive activity programmes to match.
All parties understand that the greatest risk of all is envisaging a world where lack of public or private financial resources diminishes the positive impacts on society provided by the sheer excellence that has characterised this University, its students, and its research since 1583.
On behalf of the whole University community, thank you again for your interest, time and support.