Raising millions through philanthropy

Studying at La Trobe University was just the beginning for Clare Pullar. She's since overseen philanthropic contributions of almost $300 million at two of the country's leading Universities.

La Trobe Journalism grad Harriet Edmund talks to fellow alum Clare Pullar about her outstanding career in philanthropy.

When Clare Pullar studied Arts and Education at La Trobe University in the early 1970s, she recalls how grateful she was to afford essentials like a toothbrush.

"I grew up as one of seven children in a very poor family," she says.

"We came to Australia as immigrants and I have never forgotten how fortunate I was to go to university."

Since then, Ms Pullar has helped institutions build programs resulting in almost $300 million in philanthropic contributions at The University of Queensland (UQ) and The University of Melbourne (Trinity College and Melbourne Business School).

When she was appointed to the position of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Advancement) at UQ in 2009, it was the first time an Australian university had employed a fundraiser and advancement professional as a senior executive reporting directly to the Vice-Chancellor.

It was an appointment the institution got right.

Before Ms Pullar began, fundraising at UQ peaked at $8 million per annum. In 2015, the University raised more than $65 million in philanthropic contributions.

"My appointment really signalled that the university sector was beginning to get serious about the need to drive more private investment. It was a huge cultural change that started with the engagement of the community," she says.

Perhaps it's been Ms Pullar's love of philosophy and history, first studied at La Trobe, that's led to her work in changing the lives of so many young Australians.

She says, the most rewarding aspect of her work is creating opportunity for disadvantaged students – particularly Indigenous Australians.

"It's given me a huge amount of personal satisfaction to do a little bit to recognise Australia's first nation. And, to try and level the playing field when it comes to education."

This was most notable during her tenure at The University of Melbourne, which included 10-years as Director Advancement with Trinity College from 1997. Here she led a campaign which raised $30 million, in part, to make the College more welcoming of indigenous students.

"I can remember the great mentorship given by professor Marcia Langton, founding Indigenous professor, to make sure that our Indigenous scholarship program was absolutely tailored to the needs of Indigenous students," says Ms Pullar.

"Other colleges have now come on board with a BA extended program for Indigenous students, which is a huge success."

A three-year stint at Melbourne Business School followed, where Ms Pullar established the School's first endowed chair and scholarship program.

Another great influence in Ms Pullar's career is her partner David, who she met while studying at La Trobe.

After university, Ms Pullar followed David back to his family's Goulburn Valley fruit growing and export operation where she worked while also teaching at the local high school.

It was during this time that Ms Pullar was offered her first philanthropic appointment almost 30-years ago.

With her passion for education and knowledge of local private industry, she led the fundraising effort needed to build the Goulburn Valley region's first grammar school. The school now boasts an enrolment of more than 800 students.

Whatever the catalyst for such a stellar career to date, the next chapter will begin in August this year, when Ms Pullar will join US-based Marts & Lundy as a senior consultant. She is just the second Australian to join the global philanthropy advising firm.

"I planned towards the end of my career that if I had learnt enough to share my knowledge and skills on a broader canvass, then I would take the opportunity," she says.

"We're in a new golden age of philanthropy. We all have a responsibility to support and sustain the institutions we want to have."

Image courtesy of The University of Queensland.

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