Israel’s universities: Pioneers in philanthropy

Courtesy of the Weizmann Institute
The Weizmann Institute was the first non-UK university to establish a charitable trust in the UK.

Charity, it seems, is part of the human condition, and education has always been a prominent beneficiary of our giving. Some of the oldest and most well-known universities were established as acts of charity by the Church, monarchs or simply wealthy benefactors. According to a recent Harvard UBS study into philanthropy, education is the main beneficiary of charitable foundation giving today.

The UK is an important centre internationally for philanthropy. The UK’s Association of Charitable Foundations estimates £3.3bn is given by British charitable foundations and trusts and that education receives the largest share so it is no surprise then that educational institutions – notably universities – have become increasingly sophisticated in their efforts to tap into UK-sourced giving. Israel’s universities have been ahead of the curve for a very considerable period of time in engaging in this market, and universities elsewhere are slowly waking up to their success.

At the beginning of June 1950 British newspapers reported that the prominent UK businessman and founder of Great Universal Stores, Isaac Wolfson, made a donation of £100,000 (£3m or US$3.88m in today’s money) to the Weizmann Institute. At the time, Britain’s economy was desperately fragile and strict currency controls were in place in the UK limiting outbound traffic of sterling. How Isaac Wolfson was going to be able to make the donation and send the money out of the UK was less than clear. However, in 1950 the Weizmann Institute Foundation was established in the UK, initially as a limited company. We don’t know the exact date but there it is reasonable to assume its establishment was directly related to the Wolfson donation and provided a vehicle by which the money could be transmitted to Israel. The Foundation became a charitable entity later, and has since set the model which many non-UK universities have adopted to facilitate fundraising in the UK.

According to research undertaken by The Cape Partnership, there are now 79 such charitable foundations in the UK, established by non-UK universities. All of Israel’s universities have a dedicated UK charitable trust. By the time Harvard – considered to have the Rolls Royce of university fundraising machines – established a UK charitable trust in 1984, the Weizmann Institute, Bar-Ilan Universitiy, Tel Aviv University, University of Haifa and Ben Gurion University had already established their London-based fundraising operations.

Two-thirds of such university trusts in the UK have been established since 2000. The numbers are growing year on year. A UK charitable trust is now a key part of the fundraising infrastructure that a significant number of the world’s leading universities invest in to benefit from UK philanthropic funding sources. And the three most successful non-UK university trusts by revenues? They are the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and Weizmann Institute which have collectively raised nearly £100m in the UK in the past five years.

The Weizmann Institute might not have realised it at the time, but they were pioneers of modern university fundraising, and established a model that universities elsewhere in Israel and around the world have since adopted.

About the Author
I am a public affairs specialist and partner of the Cape Partnership, a London-based advisory firm. I began my career in politics, working in the House of Commons, the House of Lords and subsequently the European Parliament. I am the founder of which looks at trends in philanthropy and giving to universities.
Related Topics
Related Posts