Donation work: where we stand

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Dear Colleagues,

In the past month or so, I have received numerous inquiries about how much money CityU has raised in relation to the Government Matching Grant Scheme. In the minds of many in the Hong Kong community, and perhaps in the minds of members of our University community too, this is no longer a fund-raising activity that every university must do and will continue to do, but another ranking contest among the eight UGC-funded institutions. There is, obviously, a certain newsworthiness from the media's point of view, but I have, so far, not been willing to subject CityU to that kind of ranking exercise. I don't think it is the intention of the Scheme, nor is it what the universities as educational institutions should stand for.

Having said that, let me make it abundantly clear that because it is part of my job to raise funds for the University in order to diversify our sources of income, particularly since the UGC rolled out the Matching Grants Scheme as an inducement, I have been working exceedingly hard, much harder, in fact, than my usual activities would allow, to raise money. Up to now, we have secured more than HK$28 million in donations. This is, to put it in perspective, a small number compared to our current annual budget of some HK$2,300 million. Even when doubled by the UGC Matching Grants, it can still only be a very minor way towards meeting our total requirements. That's why I have attached importance not to the numbers, but to the significance of beginning to diversify our source of income and of securing private sector support for public institutions.

In many countries, charitable giving is a social norm. Christians often pay a tithe to their church. Muslims are required to give 2.5% of their income to the community chest as alms giving. In North America, where I lived and worked for 28 years, giving to social causes is the culture. Most middle-class persons I know have one or two favourite causes to which they contribute. My own favorite causes have been education and cure for muscular sclerosis.

Donating has two interpretations: one is to give to the needy, showing the caring and compassionate nature of individual donors; another is to contribute, not from pity and compassion, but out of the donor's lofty goals and his or her admiration and respect for the achievements of the beneficiary institutions. The latter is the kind of donations we in the higher education sector can hope to secure. In this case, the donor has a preconceived idea of how his benefaction can enhance an already successful institution and what kind of outcome he or she wishes to see. Therefore, donor wish is a very important factor in donation solicitation. In this sense, I have never seen a wealthy philanthropist give money to an institution in order to rescue it or to make up its budget shortfall.

In the last two years, despite the achievements of many of our staff and students and despite our clearly written Strategic Plan, CityU did not seem to be effective in projecting an image as a unified university with a clear definition of where it was headed. Of late, much has been reported on our troubles and dwindling budget allocations. Potential donors could mistakenly come to view CityU as weak, asking for mercy and compassion, rather than for reinforcement and augmentation of our considerable achievements. So my first task in soliciting donations is to highlight our achievements. If I could not convince our potential donors of our achievements, I would surely come home empty-handed. Even if I pass that first test, the donor may already have too many worthy causes vying for his attention, or he may have stronger affiliations with one or two of the more established universities. Some may be temporarily caught in financial situations where coming up with a large sum of cash before a certain date is difficult.

In the United States, where I was once Dean of Engineering, I obtained donations of all kinds, including pledges of potential legacies or estates. We accepted bequests in the form of equities, art, and even properties from which income could be generated. In Hong Kong, however, the Government and society at large seems to recognize only hard cash. Whoever happens to be short of cash, even though he is willing, is unable to donate. Besides, the current Scheme has a deadline and it becomes a forced event, rather than a voluntary gesture for a worthy and sustainable cause.

Despite these obstacles, I believe we must do everything we can to solicit such cash donations within the limits set by UGC. One of the ways, which has been adopted by some sister institutions, is through staff giving. The staff, of their own volition and goodwill towards the University, can donate money. They can designate where the money should go and how it will be used. I, myself, have recently made a donation to CityU that I consider appropriate; I hope other members of the University community will also donate. In my view, depending on your financial situation, a single-digit donation is not too little; a seven-figure donation is not too much. Any amount that is appropriate to your particular situation is good enough for the University.

In order to encourage our staff and students to do this, I have obtained pledges from external members to match our donations. For example, if a dollar is donated by a staff member or student, we'll have three outside members who will each give 50 cents to the dollar. So, a dollar donated among ourselves will turn into HK$2.50. And if we report the HK$2.50 donation to UGC within the time limit of the current Scheme, the sum becomes HK$5. According to this one-to-five ratio, if we can come up with HK$2 million from the University staff, that will mean HK$10 million in total. I would very much like to see that we reach this target by 30 June 2004, the deadline set by UGC. It is my sincere hope that our dedication to the University will not only be demonstrated through our daily deeds, but, in some measure, through our own financial support for building a better and stronger university for Hong Kong.

Let me once again thank you for your unfailing support for the University.



H K Chang
President and University Professor



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