Otago Uni trust donations plummet

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
Donations to the University of Otago’s Foundation Trust have dropped significantly, but it has denied any link to its financial troubles and high-profile rebrand.

The university’s recently released annual report showed donations to the foundation trust dropped from $12.25 million in 2022 to $7.09m in 2023.

The trust received about $10m in donations in 2021.

The university told the Otago Daily Times it also received donations to the university itself, which totalled $4.09m, meaning it had exceeded its overall target of $10m for the year.

University development and alumni relations office director Shelagh Murray said the decline in donations reflected a broader trend that many organisations worldwide were experiencing.

"Several factors contribute to this decline, including the ongoing impact of Covid-19, the economic recession and the prevailing cost-of-living crisis.

"These have all affected individuals’ financial situations, leading to a re-evaluation of charitable giving priorities.

Shelagh Murray
Shelagh Murray
"Economic uncertainty has also prompted individuals and businesses to reconsider their philanthropic commitments.

"The decrease in donations to the foundation trust also reflects a change in giving patterns by donors, with more donors supporting current use projects in the university and not endowments."

However, not all universities had a drop in fundraising income.

The University of Auckland Foundation Trust received $37.6m in 2023, up from $34.23m in 2022, while the University of Canterbury Foundation received $5.15m in donations in 2023, up from $3.14m in 2022.

The drop in donations for Otago coincided with a financially torrid period for the university, which had to cut staff across multiple departments in response to deficits due to lower-than-budgeted enrolments.

The university had also announced it would spend about $1.3m over the next two years on its new branding, which included the rollout of its new Māori name to Ōtākou Whakaihu Waka.

The new tohu (symbol) and ikoa Māori (Māori name) were unveiled at a launch event earlier this month.

The university’s 2023 annual report said the institution’s operating deficit for the year was much larger than expected, at $20.6 million — $8.7m more than the $11.9m it had budgeted for.

But the deficit was offset by a $20.1m surplus recorded by the University of Otago Foundation Trust from investments performing well in an upswing in global markets.

Asked whether the university’s financial position and recent rebranding would have affected the rate of donations, Ms Murray said Otago had "more than 160,000 engaged alumni around the world".

"Last year a couple of overseas alumni expressed concern about the financial management of the university and said they would remove the university from their wills.

"The university has an active development and alumni relations office, with staff experienced in networking with alumni and developing philanthropic and alumni engagement strategies to support university priority projects.

"Donations are tracking as expected."