Early Fundraising: An Approach to Local Industry

This post has been kindly contributed by Dr Triona Fitton, who has recently published a monograph on the hidden history of philanthropy at the University of Kent. Dr Fitton also blogs about her research here.

The philanthropic foundations of the University of Kent were laid during the early fundraising efforts of the ‘Sponsors of A University in Kent’; the collective of influential local people whose aim was to put forward a bid for a University in the county. Their first appeal began informally in June 1960 when University supporter Lord Alfred Charles Bossom, a former architect and Conservative MP, hosted a luncheon at his house in Carlton Gardens. The plan for the luncheon was to invite key local industrialists and businessmen, with an aim of enticing them to contribute to a fund for the new University in Kent.

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Bossom’s invitation to Commander Thompson, courtesy of the University of Kent Archives.

Just prior to the luncheon, the Sponsors received word that Pfizer Ltd., an American pharmaceutical company, had pledged a donation of £50,000. This is equivalent to over £1 million in today’s money – the first and largest of any company donation. Pfizer had developed a subsidiary in the UK in the early 1950s, establishing a vast 80-acre site in Sandwich in 1954 and cementing its ties with the county.

Pfizer remain one of the top donors in the history of giving to the University of Kent. In the last 20 years they have also funded a chair in Medical Statistics, provided over £500,000 to fund the head of Medway campus’ School of Pharmacy, and given £20,000 to the Kent Institute of Medicine and Health Sciences for library materials. Their strong bond with the University’s scientific and industrial progress is demonstrated by Kent Innovation and Enterprise (‘KIE’, the University’s dedicated business support department) moving some of their services to Discovery Park, the former Pfizer site in Sandwich, which is now an international hub of biotechnology, life sciences, medical research and business. Pfizer still retain a presence at the site, but the relocation of KIE will aid the development of networks and collaboration between industry, students and academics.

The original donation from Pfizer established a pattern of knowledge-transfer and industry partnerships which has an enduring legacy at the University of Kent.  Back in 1960,  the donation marked a momentous start to the University’s initial appeal. The gift was announced during Lord Bossom’s prestigious luncheon, and became a marketing tool for encourage other local industries (which included breweries, cement manufacturers, paper makers, oil refineries and engineering companies, among others) to themselves contribute. However, although the Pfizer donation was succeeded by many other generous donations by companies such as BP, Shell, Unilever and Associated Portland Cement, no early corporate donation came close to the £50,000 donation that started it all.

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Image courtesy of “University News.” The Times [London, England] 1 June 1960: 16. The Times Digital Archive.

(This blog contains excerpts from Hidden History: Philanthropy at the University of Kent, available now)