President’s Column #9: Fundraising for our 150th anniversary—What an arduous and fascinating job!!

President's Column | July 03, 2024

MIA Studio/

I have learned diverse sciences at the university, including social science, literature and modern philosophy. Being a president of the university has also offered me a fabulous opportunity to catch up with newly emerging science and updates to the conventional knowledge of science. The expansion and deepening of contemporary science can be too immense and rapid for me to follow, and consequently my newly acquired knowledge is just broad and shallow. However, I have been able to learn directly from excellent leading researchers at the forefront of their scientific fields. This is one of the few “irreplaceable rewards” for the tough job of a president.

Although I have had the good fortune to learn so many disciplines, I have missed the opportunity to learn the very skills that are essential for people to survive in modern society, such as economics, finance and accounting.

Times have changed, and Hokkaido University now offers classes to first-year undergraduates on economics and the basics of finance-related life planning.

On the other hand, my generation has had little occasion to formally learn about basic monetary knowledge and practices in society since childhood. Furthermore, we have been drilled with the belief that it is not the right thing for people in the academic world to talk about money. For people who have been educated to believe that thrift and frugality are true virtues, it is extremely difficult to acquire the skill of getting other people to open their purses.

One of the indispensable tasks of the president is collecting donations. I have had to learn about the management of university funds and endowment mechanisms, as well as a rudimentary knowledge of economics and finance.

I have observed the work of several foreign university presidents, and, in any case, they are infusing amazing energy and passion into their activities thereby increasing the number of supporters of their universities.

Presidents in foreign countries also actively attend local business meetings and personal philanthropic gatherings, as well as religious gatherings. One overseas university president whom I know makes it a point to attend funerals. Of course, this is to pay his respects to the deceased and show his sincere condolences. However, there is also a well-known story that a university president attended the funeral of a wealthy person, which allegedly led to a donation of several hundred million yen. 

If, all of a sudden, I were to attend the funeral of some wealthy person, there is a chance that it would be frowned upon, as if I were hanging a placard for “seeking inheritance money.”

Indeed, collecting donations and building up the endowment is not something that can be done overnight. Universities like Oxford and Harvard have spent a hundred years building alumni associations and strengthening their circle of supporters.

Knowledge about donations is also profound when explored. It also requires specialized skills and expertise. However, the best economists are not always the best fundraisers.

It is only when people empathize with the university’s philosophy that the feeling of donation is finally elicited. Even if empathy is generated, it takes a long time to foster and strengthen the bond of trust before they open their wallets and donate to the university. It is too obvious that it is not taught in economics.

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