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Industry engagement leaders share keys to expanding partnerships into philanthropy

Excerpted from the August 2022 issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. UIDP members can view the entire issue here.

In university-industry partnerships, philanthropy has the potential to be among the most lucrative avenues of collaboration — but how do you get there? If you have a partner that is already engaged, say, in research, or talent acquisition, who makes the first move?

The answer is not a universal one, nor is it always simple. In fact, corporate engagement professionals may even disagree on what makes a good candidate. For example, when Nathan Utz, vice president for industry partnerships at Purdue University, was posed the question, “Is every industry partner a potential philanthropic partner?” he replied firmly, “We certainly hope so.”

The initial engagement, he notes, “can really start wherever.” Research, he says, is certainly an obvious and major starting point. “Another area is professional development for their employees,” Utz suggests. “Another would be whether they want to explore our IP that may be sitting on the shelf but could further enable their products or technologies. Still another would be co-branding; they pay money to Purdue to have their brand at football or basketball games. But most start either with talent or research.”

But Kent Glasscock, president of the Kansas State University Institute for Commercialization, has a mixed reaction to that assertion. “It’s becoming much, much rarer” to see the transition from research to philanthropy, he says. However, he adds, “there was [in the last several months] in the College of Veterinary Medicine a terrific auditorium that was sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health — a significant philanthropic donation. But that company has had a long-standing relationship with the department of veterinary medicine, both in terms research and talent acquisition. They also have a remarkably outstanding dean.”

Leah Aschmann, director of corporate relations at Rice University, takes a more global approach. “I think every partner is as unique as every individual potential donor; the potential is there, so why not?” she poses. She acknowledges that companies already engaged in different ways on campus — with students, in research, in volunteering for advisory boards — and which have representatives in different areas of campus “already see the value the university brings; they are the ideal partners.”

Keith Marmer, chief innovation & economic engagement officer for the University of Utah’s PIVOT Center, demurs slightly. “In theory, you could say every individual partner is [a potential giver], but in practicality that’s not true,” he states. “Not only are some companies just not focused on philanthropy — they probably do not understand it — but also, similarly, some innovation managers are probably not the best suited for thinking about philanthropy out of the gate.”

Glasscock believes expansion into philanthropy favors those partners that have a multi- dimensional, strategic relationship with the university — who see the benefit from a long-lasting relationship. “In our view, the days of just going and asking companies for philanthropic donations are essentially over,” he asserts. “Companies can give their philanthropic gifts in any fashion they see fit and to whomever they want to donate — and those donations tend to go to universities and other endeavors of interest to key leaders, or historical ties of the company to their potential donees. We believe — and our experience has been — that meaningful, significant university/corporate private sector relationships tend to build a foundation upon which philanthropic giving can occur — and even thrive.”

Excerpted from the August 2022 issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. UIDP members can access the complete article and the entire issue here. Other practitioners may subscribe to receive the UIEA newsletter at