Making the Case for CASE

Why more people should know about this fantastic graduate scheme

This post is for anyone who has done fundraising in their spare time at university and really enjoyed it but never seriously considered a career in it because it doesn’t seem like a realistic thing to have a career in. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s rewarding, but the entire point is you don’t get paid, right? Or if you do, it’s being paid to stand in the rain five days a week in a hostile town centre somewhere with a clipboard trying to persuade people who have forgotten to avoid eye contact with you to listen to your pitch, isn’t it?

That’s certainly what I thought a career in fundraising was most likely to turn out to be: either front-line, face-to-face stuff requiring a great deal more resilience than I have to do it day in, day out all year round, or great fun voluntary work that you do in your spare time.  Gloomily, I ruled a career in fundraising out and began to consider other options. Then I found out about the CASE Graduate scheme.

CASE is the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Over 4,000 educational institutions across the world are members, including Kent. CASE are instrumental in helping their member institutions get the funding they need to do the things universities do best – attract the brightest students, become world leaders in research, confront the major issues the world is facing, break down the barriers of prejudice and, of course, educate.

I was at Kent for four years and not only did I never hear of CASE, I never really knew anything about higher education fundraising. I assumed our tuition fees paid for everything (they certainly felt like they should!). I didn’t know universities had development teams dedicated to looking after their alumni and fundraising for their institution. And when I graduated with my history degrees, unsure of where I fitted in, I never thought a career in fundraising could involve working at a university. I’d done a lot of fundraising around my studies but it was exactly that: something you did in your spare time, around what you actually needed to get on with. So if someone had told me I’d be working in a dedicated fundraising and development office at University College London (UCL) on a campaign to raise £600 million, I’d have been sceptical. I still considered it a coup when a member of public handed over a five-pound note.

So I spent a while after university applying for a number of jobs I couldn’t quite see myself doing before reaching out to the careers office for some advice. I explained that I knew I liked fundraising but the problem was this is a voluntary occupation. I was quickly disabused of that notion when I was told about the CASE Graduate Scheme.

CASE take a number of applications online as soon as the scheme opens and whittles them down to around 200 or so people that are invited to one of two assessment days where they are interviewed by representatives from certain universities instead of CASE themselves. Those successful will be invited back to the institution(s) that would like to see them again for a further interview and if successful again will become a valuable member of staff at that university.

The scheme took on 13 successful applicants this year and scattered us to the development departments of universities all over the UK – UCL, Kings, Cardiff, Surrey, Nottingham etc – and, excitingly, Cancer Research UK, the first non-higher education institution to take part in the scheme.  We work to help our institutions secure the funds, time and hearts of our donors. Despite all thirteen of us having the same job title (CASE Graduate Trainee), we all have had a totally different experience – even in institutions where there are two graduates.

The world of higher education fundraising is varied, exciting, dynamic and rewarding. Universities have a really positive impact – through their ground-breaking research, their interaction with communities and the opportunities they offer to students, and working in a development office gives you a chance to be a part of all that.

No two days are the same at UCL which is something I absolutely love about it – I’ve been to graduation, a campaign launch, written for their website, attended alumni reunions and much more; my fellow CASE colleague on the other side of the office has already been interacting with major donors to the university.

CASE don’t disappear into the background once you are settled into your institution either – the level of support, encouragement and additional training from the scheme is fantastic. Regular phone calls/visits and training days (even a week away in Loughborough in Spring and a Sunday-Thursday conference right at the very start) make sure that you never feel like there’s no-one there to talk to about potential problems.

For anyone considering this, I would leave two probably quite clichéd but nonetheless true bits of advice: first, as ever with fundraising, passion and enthusiasm are the key. Second, and even more important, know your institution. The university you’re going to start working at will be doing so many amazing things that people will want to hear about it’s vital to be able to talk confidently and with pride about your institution. No-one can know everything that goes on at a university – there’s just too much – but always having a good idea of the current major projects and events and what the thinking is behind them will set you in very good stead.

So if you have really enjoyed fundraising during studies, or you’d love to have a chance to contribute to all the research and growth going on at a university, this is the scheme for you. Applications will open on 1 February 2017 and close on 27 March: see the CASE website to find out more.

Alex Page graduated from Kent with a BA in History in 2012 and then completed an MA in War, Media and Society in 2014. He is now CASE Graduate Trainee in the Office of the Vice-Provost (Development) at University College London.

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