This article presents and discusses the findings of a survey conducted among Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) in most of the twenty-seven countries within the European Union, which studied the extent and success of fundraising from philanthropic sources for research. Our data demonstrate that success in fundraising is related to institutional privilege (in terms of the universities' reputation, wealth and networks) as well as factors relating to the internal organization, activities and cultures of universities (such as the extent of investment in fundraising activities) and factors relating to the external social, economic and political environments (such as national cultural attitudes towards philanthropy and the existence of tax breaks for charitable giving). Our findings identify the existence of a 'Matthew effect', such that privilege begets privilege, when it comes to successful fundraising for university research. We argue that, despite the existence of some untapped philanthropic potential, not all universities are equally endowed with the same fundraising capacities. The article concludes by suggesting that policy-makers pay more heed to the structural constraints within which fundraising takes place, to ensure that policies that seek to promote philanthropy are realistic. © 2011 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.