New Strategies for Funding Academic Research

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Ed Mason, president of EMNR & Associates, is writing this series to assist academic leaders in finding creative strategies to merge public/private funding for existing and new research initiatives. Mason has studied an array of collaborative partnerships between the two offices most focused on external funding (the development office and research & grants), and he will be sharing some of the models he has observed, as well as directions for the future.

We hope you will join us for this innovative series:

Increasingly, universities are compelled to develop new fundraising models because of several prevailing trends:

  • “A study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that overall federal and research development funding could be reduced by $57.5 billion or 8.4% if the sequester stays in place for the next 4 years. The National Institute of Health (NIH) number of research grants has declined every year since 2004. The agency funded 3,100 fewer grants in 2012 than it did in 2004″ (Seib, 2013).
  • “Nationally, spending per full time equivalent on students by state government is $6,105 still below the $7,924 mark in 2008 from a report released by the State Higher Education Executive Officers. The good news is that many states are increasing their funding for universities, but it is not up to current levels” (Rivard, April 21, 2014). States have also decreased funding for capital projects and employment for universities.
  • “Mega-wealthy philanthropist donations to universities for funding basic research is increasing. Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, has donated $500 million for a brain institute in Seattle. Fred Kavil, a billionaire, has established brain institutes at Yale, Columbia and the University of California. Science philanthropy is hot, as many of the richest Americans seek to reinvent themselves as patrons of social progress through science research” (Broad, NY Times, March 16, 2014).

Additionally, federal programs are beginning to ask for matching funds from either state or private sector.

Searching for Other Sources of Funding

Hybrid models of funding academic research — leveraging relationships in both the public and private sector — are the current reality for universities. Hybrid approaches to funding have multiple models:

  • Multi-institutional partners that are pursuing a common objective or program (several universities regionally or nationally) and can also be defined as coalitions or consortiums.
  • Diverse organizational partners (universities, community colleges, nonprofit organizations, government agencies) that are interested in finding solutions to a problem and need external funding.
  • Public/Private Partnerships (combination of government and private funding) that funds programs or capital expansion.

Funding agencies are supportive of the hybrid approach because it leverages community resources more effectively, disseminates research, expands outreach programs and lowers administrative costs for grant audits. The hybrid approach utilizes federal, state, private foundation, corporation and donor sources of funding for programs.

To what degree does your advancement office partner with your academic researchers and grant writers to identify sources of private support for academic research?

Does this represent a missed opportunity for your institution?

3 Innovative Models for Funding Academic Research with Donor/Foundation Support

Fortunately, there are already several creative examples that utilize this approach:

  • The National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education (University of Minnesota) is a public- private partnership created in October 2012 through a cooperative agreement with Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and four private foundations: the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the John A. Hartford Foundation. Purpose is to study the advancement of team-based health professions education and patient care as an efficient model for improving quality outcomes and cost (
  • Chicago Teacher Pipeline (Illinois State University) is a collaborative program with Chicago Public Schools to increase teacher participation in inner city schools and encourage high school graduates, many of them who are first generation to attend college. The funding comes from federal, foundations, institutional commitment and donors. It is in its 10th year of existence (
  • The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley, New York University and the University of Washington announced a five-year, $37.8 million partnership to enable university scientists to collaborate across campuses on data-intensive research (Philanthropy News Digest, November 13, 2013).

To ensure that your academic research remains well-funded and competitive, your university will need to develop an effective strategy engaging administration, advancement, research, faculty, communications, public relations and government relations to create a team that brings external resources to their institution.

Experts forecast that the top 50 research universities have a competitive advantage in pursuing external funding from the public and private sectors. If your own institution is not one of those top 50, the forthcoming articles in this series will help your institution develop effective strategies for finding your areas of excellence and competing for external funding for your programs.

More About Such Opportunities

Watch for upcoming articles from Ed Mason, which will address:

  • A three-step process for identifying areas of strength among your institution’s research activities that are particularly well-suited to partnerships for donor or foundation support.
  • How to apply a “team science” research model to funding and administering research initiatives.
  • Strategies for bridging the communications gap between development and research offices.


How ready are the deans at your campus to pursue donor support?

Our in-depth guide for deans by Academic Impressions bestseller Jim Langley reviews:

  • How the dean can take a lead role in defining the case for support and identifying inspiring projects defined by specific objectives rather than by categories of need.
  • The respective roles and responsibilities of the dean, faculty, and the college development staff.
  • How deans can work most effectively with the president, the central advancement office, and their development officer.
  • The dean’s specific role in donor stewardship, campaigns, volunteer management, and making the ask.

Learn more about the book here.

Further Reading

  • A Report by the Research Universities Consortium: “The Current Health and Future Well-Being of the American Research University.” Sponsored by Elsevier (June 2012),
  • Broad, William, J. “Billionaires with Big Ideas are Privatizing American Science.” (NY Times, Sunday, March 13, 2014, Pp. A1,A18 & A19, Vol. CLXIII, No. 56,442.)
  • $38 Million Partnership Launched to Maximize Impact of Big Data.” (Philanthropy News Digest, November 12, 2013.)
  • Rivard, Ry/ “A few states are spending more on higher ed than before the recession hit.” (Inside Higher Ed, April 21, 2014).
  • Seib, Gerald, F. “Research Cuts Ought to Worry Business.” (The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, October 29, 2013, P. A6.)
  • Testimony for the Record Submitted to the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations Hearing on “Driving Innovation Through Federal Investments.” (April 29, 2014.)