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Eight questions with Matt Ferguson, Director of Development and Alumni Engagement

Matt Ferguson Did you know the University of Warwick is a charity? We caught up with Matt Ferguson, Director of Development and Alumni Engagement, to find out more about his team after a record year of fundraising.

1) Why do donors want to support the University?

The short answer is our brilliant research. The Warwick academic community has some fantastic ideas about how they want to change their field and, in some instances, change the shape and direction of global affairs and events. Our job is to get the donor community really excited about this.

Donors often ask what they can do to help students from less represented backgrounds experience Warwick and thrive during their time here. It’s one of the most meaningful propositions that donors respond to and it’s always going to be an important part of our work.

2) Why do you think 2021 has been your team’s most successful year of fundraising to date?

We’ve made a commitment to the University to try to triple our fundraising goal and I’m delighted that over 2020-21 we delivered £12.1 million of new philanthropic income, which is spectacular. It’s not the height of what we can achieve, but it’s enormously forward compared to what the team has historically been able to deliver for Warwick.

I think two projects were key to our success. The Institute for Global Pandemic Planning brings our expertise in epidemiological modelling, behavioural science, and public health together in a way that gives us exceptional credentials to pitch to donors. This presents a new model of how Warwick is creating a new model to respond to global problems. That quickly caught the excitement of the donor community.

The other project that made an enormous contribution towards that total was the £3.5 million gift to Astrophysics to create 15 new PhD scholarships and 13 new post-doctoral fellowships. [See question six for more on this gift]. 

3) How will your team expand to meet your ambition of tripling the University’s philanthropic income?

Over the past two years, we’ve brought the Development and Alumni Engagement teams together, we’ve reorganised things and we’ve been successful with some fantastic recruitment campaigns.

We have a lot of exciting people in post and their main mandate is to spend time forming relationships with professional services and academic communities. It’s important that the academic community feels they can connect with us to guide their participation in alumni and fundraising activity.

Our team continues to expand, and we’re currently recruiting several new posts. Colleagues across the University will be hearing and seeing much more from us to ask them to participate in everything from webinars, to encouraging alumni to offering mentoring and internships, or perhaps attend a conversation with a donor. The visibility of our team across University life is going to increase over the next two years.

4) Why does the University need philanthropic support? (We already receive fees and research funding?)

Donors and their contributions enable Warwick to invest in things we might not be able to invest in.

Philanthropy, if it’s pitched with a message that’s genuinely transformational and exciting, can make a tremendous difference in the life of both a young researcher and in support for existing research programmes. It connects researchers with brilliant ideas, with sources of support that they may not have known were ever there, and enables them to pitch projects outside the parameters of normal calls for proposals from research councils.

5) What value can Warwick’s alumni community add to the University’s work?

This question hasn’t been asked enough! It makes total sense that the University supports and spends time on student recruitment and supporting students from less privileged backgrounds to join us. But they’re here as students for three or four years. We have them as alumni for life and we really want to ensure that we find ways that they can help us in whatever career they’ve chosen, in a way that has an impact for the University.

That help can be as straightforward as encouraging a student to apply here, offering an internship where they work, or thinking about making a gift. We’re mobilising an exciting level of support for alumni participation that’s going to make it possible for all alumni to have a contact point and a means of involvement with Warwick once they’ve graduated.

6) Tell us more about the gift to Astrophysics, and the gift to support the Professor Lord Bhattacharyya Chair in Education in WMG?

Combining PhD studentships with post-doctoral fellowships makes a very compelling statement of intent that we want to be home to several exciting discoveries over the next 10-15 years. That vision really resonated with this donor.

The University feels that Astrophysics could be an area that could produce Nobel level research in another ten-15 years. As a younger university consistently ranked within the top ten, there’s a question for Warwick as to when we’ll start winning some of these big international prizes. The idea that philanthropy could help move the University along that agenda was really captivating for the alumnus who made the gift.

When someone has made an enormous and special contribution to the University in the way that the late Professor Bhattacharyya did, there are alumni that want to be asked to be part of honouring and celebrating that. That’s an important moment in the life of the Institution.

Many alumni feel a deep sense of connection and gratitude for everything that Lord Bhattacharyya personally did for them and how they felt supported and connect by WMG, not just as students but throughout their professional careers. The Chair has been established for £1.5million through an alumnus who feels this way. The next step is making this Chair permanent. We’re still interested in securing a further £2 million, which is a project we will embark upon with other alumni.

7) I’m an academic seeking funding for a new area of research. How can the Development and Alumni Engagement Team help?

You should absolutely think about us alongside more traditional forms of support for research. Donors who are experienced in philanthropic funding usually ask how big is the difference that your research is proposing to make and what’s the urgency of the problem that you’re trying to address. So, think about those questions. Part of our team’s mandate is to put Warwick research in front of the biggest and most effective philanthropists in the world and some propositions are suited to philanthropic individuals.

Sometimes, proposals are more suited to foundations. Foundations often, like research councils, will have calls for proposals and parameters for different projects they wish to support. Emma Griffiths on our team oversees that work and is someone you should get in touch with to find out if there may be a foundation suitable for funding your work.

8) Can anyone support the University?

For the team there’s no such thing as a small gift, we want to find moments of support for everybody in our alumni community and for staff and our non-alumni friends. We develop giving campaigns that enable everybody to participate.

Giving Tuesday falls in November, but Warwick’s own Giving Day falls around 29th May each year. This commemorates The 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust, a founding donor who still supports us to this day, and has become a really important milestone in our annual calendar. The day inspires giving from all parts of the alumni community and we’re absolutely thrilled with how successful it’s been. Look out for next year’s event.

Our telephone campaign is also underway, when we recruit a team of student fundraisers to call and connect alumni and donors with the life of the University and tell them about the impact of supporting students. Our student callers are amazing and do very important work.

Learn more about the Development and Alumni Engagement Team and our current recruitment campaign at