2020 was an extraordinary year in so many ways and yet your compassion, kindness and community spirit remained constant. Thank you for your generous philanthropic support of students and research at the University of Newcastle. Below is a summary of just some of the amazing change you enabled through your collective generosity in 2020.

Professor Alex Zelinsky AO - Vice-Chancellor and President

On behalf of our University community, I thank you for your generosity. We were moved by the remarkable support you offered to us in a year which brought so much change, uncertainty and challenge for our students, staff and researchers.

Our vision remains to be a world-leading university for our regions and we are grateful for the invaluable part you are playing in helping us towards that vision.

This, our third philanthropic Review of the Year provides a snapshot of the impact of your generosity. I hope it makes you feel proud of the future you are shaping through your kindness."

Professor Alex Zelinsky AO
Vice-Chancellor and President

Together our amazing community of supporters changed lives every day:

  • You helped us keep the best and brightest research minds in the Hunter region, working on solutions we all need
  • You provided a record number of students with support and encouragement to reach their goals, including the largest number ever of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
  • You funded breakthroughs in research areas such as children’s brain cancer treatment and ovarian cancer detection
  • You helped us to expand our research in fields such as diabetes, wildlife conservation, stroke, Indigenous Australian land management practice, allergies, asthma and nutrition
  • You helped us work towards a more diverse, skilled workforce by supporting students from a range of backgrounds and encouraging high school students from around the country to take the step to University
  • You improved people’s quality of life by powering community programs in rural mental health, men’s health, healthy ageing and healthy eating, and by supporting the University’s community radio station 2NURFM

Philanthropic and sponsorship income

Funds Received

Together, philanthropic income and sponsorships totalled $15.4 million in 2020, the highest level of philanthropic giving in the University’s history. As Figure 1 shows, your collective generosity has grown by 270% from $4.1 million in 2016, a real demonstration of kindness and community spirit.

Philanthropy to support research

About half of the funds received through philanthropy in 2020 were to support research projects, a proportion that has increased significantly since 2016 and which has remained fairly consistent for the past four years. The total funds to support research in 2020 just eclipsed the substantial support received in the previous highest year in 2018.

Philanthropic support of research provides a double benefit: in addition to directly funding research initiatives, it also enables the University to apply for Australian Government funding through research block grants, thereby increasing the impact of your support on the research outcomes our communities need.

Support for the University’s Research and Discovery Fund continues to grow. In 2020, more than $54,000 was generously gifted to this endowment fund that will provide the University with a significant resource to support future research discoveries.

Professor Janet Nelson - Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) and Vice-President

Thank you very much for your generous support of research at the University of Newcastle. In 2020, you supported researchers at the beginning of their careers and helped us keep the brightest minds in the Hunter. You gave to areas of research aligned to your passions, supporting us to find the solutions that society needs. And you invested in the future, helping us to continue to deliver world-class research for the next generation."

Professor Janet Nelson
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) and Vice-President

Community spirit shines

New factors came into play in 2020 with many students’ circumstances suddenly changing as a result of the global pandemic. In response, the University launched an emergency student hardship appeal, inviting supporters to assist students to continue their studies or look after their welfare, such as by funding vouchers to purchase equipment for working at home or for food and essentials. Our community chose to give most generously, gifting over $176,000 to students when they really needed it.

When we invited donations again during our appeals in the usual timeframes of the end of the financial year and the end of the calendar year, you again showed remarkable generosity, giving your support at similar levels to previous years to support students, researchers and community programs.

Staff throughout the University were moved by the community spirit shown by our supporters in 2020 and the students supported were quick to express their gratitude.

Appeal donations

Funds raised

Funds raised is a standard used by universities to highlight the level of philanthropic commitments generously made in a given year. It is the total value of new funds committed in that year: new donations received, new philanthropic grants secured, new bequests received and new multi-year commitments pledged.

Funds raised can vary significantly year-on-year because the whole of each new philanthropic commitment is recorded in that single year, some of which are large, multi-year commitments.

We are very grateful for the $6.6 million dollars in newly donated funds committed to the University in 2020.

$6.6M funds raised in 2020

Our philanthropic community

Since the establishment of our University, we have been passionately supported by community members. Though the majority of our donors continues to be community members the percentage of our philanthropic supporters who are alumni1 and staff has grown steadily to one-third in 2020.

In 2017 and 2019, the University held peer-to-peer fundraising challenges and a team of volunteers reached out to their networks to inspire support. Though the number of donors in 2020 wasn't as high as in those years, more than 1,500 people and organisations generously supported students, researchers and community programs at the University, a remarkable demonstration of kindness, particularly given the context of the year.

Fig 3. Number of supporters

1 Alumni are our graduates, including recipients of honorary degrees; Staff include current and conjoint staff, many of whom are also alumni.

Annual donations per supporter

Our generous supporters give through the University in the ways that suit them. Our donors in 2020 were based in 16 countries and gifts ranged from staff payroll deductions of $2 per fortnight, to one-off gifts to provide a student with a laptop during lockdown, to multi-year commitments of several million dollars. All our donors are special to us and we are grateful for every gift.

Figure 4 shows that the amount donated per supporter in 2020 has decreased in each of the bands compared with 2019 but remained similar to 2018. In 2019, the University held a peer-to-peer challenge when our volunteer fundraisers connected with their networks to generate philanthropic support via an Ikara-Flinders Ranges trek, inspiring large numbers of additional gifts.

Figure 4 only tells part of the story because the total given was higher overall in 2020 than in any previous year and the average gift size was also higher than in previous years.

Fig 4. Amount donated per supporter

Exceptional generosity from our supporters is recognised on our Supporter Honour Board which is displayed on our website and in the Great Hall of the University.

Clodagh - Bachelor of Medical Radiation Science (Honours) (Diagnostic Radiography) student and scholarship recipient

I am sincerely grateful for the scholarship I have received and would like to thank everyone who has supported a student like me. I know first-hand the importance of having access to good health care so it is inspiring to me that I will be able to contribute towards the communities of rural NSW. Thank you for easing the path and enabling me to pursue my dream of being a Radiographer."

Bachelor of Medical Radiation Science (Honours) (Diagnostic Radiography) student and scholarship recipient

Shaping futures and enabling accomplishment

Your generosity in supporting students through scholarships continues to grow. In the past three years, the number of philanthropically supported scholarships awarded has expanded by 50% from 224 to 335 scholarships, and their total value has risen from $1.3 million to $2.2 million awarded.

That means that 335 students were provided with much needed support, encouragement and motivation thanks to your kindness. It also means that you are helping us to deliver on our joint values of equity and excellence and that you are supporting diversity and talent in our future workforce.

In line with donor wishes, 43% of philanthropically funded scholarships are equity scholarships, including our flagship Shaping Futures equity scholarships. These scholarships support students facing barriers to their education, such as a disability or caring responsibilities. An increasing number of companies are choosing to give to scholarships at the University to support their ongoing employment goals – such as ensuring a skilled and diverse future workforce.

Fig 5. Number and type of scholarships awarded

An increasing number of our donors are also opting to support multi-year scholarships: either committing to supporting one student(s) per year over at least three years, or giving to support one (or more) students for the duration of their degree.

Professor Mark Hoffman - Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) and Vice-President

Scholarships play an important role in our commitment to excellence and equity in higher education. Thank you for your generosity in supporting students in 2020, helping our future leaders to set their sights high and then achieve their goals."

Professor Mark Hoffman
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) and Vice-President

Your earnest support of our Indigenous students also continued in 2020 and the number of scholarships supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students continues to grow. Figure 6 shows the number of scholarships funded to specifically support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, which has increased each year since 2016. Many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are supported through scholarships that are available to all students thanks to your generosity.

Fig 6. Donor-funded indigenous scholarships

Nathan Towney - Pro Vice-Chancellor – Indigenous Strategy and Leadership

Thank you for supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and researchers at the University of Newcastle. Your generosity will have a direct impact by inspiring and empowering talented researchers and students to realise their full potential. We really value the support of our community in working with us towards our goals of reconciliation and equity – thank you."

Nathan Towney
Pro Vice-Chancellor – Indigenous Strategy and Leadership

Nurturing your gift with respect and integrity

The University applies an ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) framework to its investment portfolio. This strategy, which includes the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), is supported by the University’s investment manager, Mercer, to monitor performance against these goals. Mercer is a founding signatory to the Principles for Responsible Investment and recognised as a global and local leader in responsible investing.

As of the end of 2020, the University had met or exceeded each of its ESG investment goals. In the three years the ESG goals have been in place, the weighted ESG score has improved over 35% and the carbon footprint of the University’s listed shares portfolio, as measured by weighted average carbon intensity, has decreased over 30%. As at 30 June 2020 the University’s investment portfolio carbon footprint was approximately 28% below the composite benchmark. The University has divested from fossil fuel companies that are not demonstrating a transition to a low carbon economy and is increasing investments aligned with the UN SDGs. The University invests in a Socially Responsible Global Shares fund, of which 70% is invested with managers that specifically target sustainability themes aligned with the UN SDGs. In June 2020, the University mapped its portfolio to the UN SDGs and the result was 22% of the University’s portfolio (listed equity and direct property) being in alignment, versus its target of 10%.

The Philanthropic Governance Committee is an advisory committee to the Vice-Chancellor, comprising senior leaders of the University, who ensure the management, use, investment and distribution of philanthropic gifts received by the University occurs respectfully, consistently and transparently, and to maximum strategic effect in delivering on donor intent as well as our legal and financial obligations.

Gifts beyond a lifetime

We are most grateful for the remarkable generosity of our supporters who choose to support our students and researchers beyond their lifetime through a gift in their will (a bequest).

In 2020, an additional eight supporters informed us that they have chosen to make this very kind gesture to include the University of Newcastle in their will, bringing the total number close to 100. This represents a significant level of support to help future students reach their goals and to assist researchers in solving the problems our communities face.

From its inception until the end of 2020, the University has had the honour of receiving 56 bequests from staff, alumni and community members. These gifts have exceptional potential for impact, often creating a legacy that lasts for generations.

Valerie RyanIn 2020, we received a gift from the will of the late Valerie Ryan, a proud Novocastrian who has left a mark on multiple charities and organisations throughout the Hunter, including the University of Newcastle and our research partner HMRI. Her bequest is the largest in the region’s history. We are very grateful to Valerie for her generous gift which will support research and discovery, bringing innovation and new insights into the community for years to come.

John LeeThe University is also honoured to have received a gift from the late John Lee in 2020, a self-educated man and a passionate Novocastrian. John designated his gift to further research into DNA, thereby continuing the exploration of people and society that was his passion during his lifetime. We are very grateful for John’s thoughtful and generous gift which will support significant research in his chosen field.

Choosing to leave a gift in your will is a personal decision but does not need to be a private one. When supporters choose to inform the University of their intention in this regard, we are able to work with them to define their gift to best align with their passions and maximise the impact of their generosity. Sharing your decision with the University also allows us to keep in touch with you and your family through our bequest program which includes the annual Bequests Morning Tea, where the University community takes time to honour and remember those who have remembered the University beyond their lifetime.

The University does not apply administrative fees to donations, except where required by law or where specified by the terms of the donation. Fundraising costs are absorbed by the University, allowing 100% of your donation to be applied according to your intent as a supporter.

Investment returns – safeguarding your vision

Donations, bequests and philanthropic grants are pooled with other University investments. We are honoured to have been entrusted to nurture these funds and are most grateful for the additional impact which can be achieved through investment earnings.

The prudent investment of your generously donated funds is extremely important to the University, and we are proud of the performance and investment returns for our philanthropic funds over time. Forecast cash required for the following 12 months are held in a short term pool while the remaining majority of funds is held in a long term pool. Both are overseen by external professional investment managers to maintain an appropriate risk level for generating positive long term returns.

In a challenging financial environment in 2020 we were able to achieve a real return of 2% per annum above inflation - consistent with our model of long term investment (see figure 7).

Fig 7. Interest rate on philanthropic funds invested

At the end of 2020, just over $1 million in investment earnings was distributed to 356 donor-funded projects and programs in accordance with donor intent.

$1.31M Investment earnings distributed to philanthropic projects and programs in 2020

Thank you


We hope that you have found this review useful and informative. Our intention is to remain transparent and open in all our operations and interactions with you.

We also really value your opinions and feedback, and the chance to understand the motivations behind your amazing gifts and your preferences in working with us.

If you would like to give us feedback on this report, or any other aspect of being a philanthropic supporter of the University of Newcastle, you can email  donor-relations@newcastle.edu.au or call 02 4921 8612

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.