Donations

Dr. Moran made some interesting comments yesterday, a propos UD’s recent/upcoming fundraising effort. While most of the content was stock, I had some questions.

  1. “Moneybomb.” Who came up with this name? Imagine Louise Cowan has been away for several years and you’re giving her an update about the school. You aregoing to flinch and get really quiet when you come to the word “Moneybomb.” And she’s going to look at you like you’re crazy. Because whoever came up with that name is.
  2. Also, “utilize aggressive peer-to-peer marketing”? What fraction of this sounds like something I want to be a part of? I thought UD has been concentrating on marketing lately. Isn’t the president du joura marketing expert? I’m no marketer but I can tell from here, halfway across the state, that UD has their priorities all wrong.
  3. It’s no secret that an embarrassingly low percentage of UD alumni donate to the school.

    Certainly, secrets and common knowledge are different (I did not know about this embarrassment that UD had to wake up to every morning). But I’m curious now. How low is “embarrassingly” low? And compared to what, churchgoers? Without numbers, where numbers are due, adverbs are just fluff.

  4. If the numbers are indeed significantly statistically lower than other schools with less alma-mater-shaming alumni, perhaps there is a reason. My hypothesis is that, controlling for relative familial unit income, UD alumni give as much as other self-respecting are less embarrassing alumni at other schools. Let’s say that the average family from U Chicago (who is far less likely than a UD to have a large household) makes $150K. They have one kid, and each parent works. The average family from UD probably makes something more like $70K, they have 2+ kids, and the mom either doesn’t work or subs at a school for less than $20K / year.
  5. This is just me making stuff up and piling on the stereotypes. This is also precisely the sort of thing that the alumni department at UD (or whatever they call it) should be researching intently. If you don’t have numbers, you’re going to make bad judgments.
  6. Alumni know that they’ve received an outstanding education, and yet many have not supported the University for a variety of reasons.

    Moran treats a few of these “variety of reasons.” But of course, not all, and not in depth.

    I’m not pleased with everything that has gone on either, but so what? Your support does not mean that you endorse every person and program at UD. It does mean that you endorse our academic mission and the work of the faculty and students, and it does allow you to express gratitude for the education you received, including gratitude to favorite professors. [emphasis added]

    My reason is that I can’t donate to one cause, something I do care about. I can only donate (as far as I know) to the university, which goes in part (in large part) toward misappropriation of funds. My support “does not mean that [I] endorse” everything I disagree with at the school. But my support means that I support everything at the school. You can make the distinction between endorsement and support, but you cannot say there’s no conflict. So I must support even the stupid things: the president juggling, the pharmacy school, the MBA push, the core degradation. So there was a big rumpus not too long ago about Planned Parenthood getting government money. This was because pro-Life taxpayers were having to give their money to an organization that killed babies! In some very small and tiny way, certainly, but they finally realized that money is fungible and that some of their taxes were winding their insidious way into the pockets of Planned Parenthood’s baby-killing doctors. (I forget how this ended up. Politics depress me, so I try not to read the news very much.) In the same way, part of any donation I make is going to the core-killing politicians who work out of Carpenter (now Catherine?) that never went to UD and now rule it. The Walker-firing, pharmacy school-mustering, mo’ undergrads mo’ better-thinking administration. That’s a problem.

  7. … liberal arts colleges are traditionally not fully self-supporting and are instead dependent on the gift economy.

    If a university like UD is really driven by the gift economy, why not introduce a little democracy into alumni support. I only care about UD insofar as I feel that the UD of now is the UD of yore (when I was there), and if it departs from where I think it should be, I feel as if it has estranged me just as much as I have it. I’m just four years out now; seven from my freshman year. I already feel that UD has changed, so much. Let me donate to the ideals that I remember and cherish, not the cruft and mildew that’s accumulated since I left.

  8. Also, while I appreciate the idea, I feel that this support model and UD’s goal are a paradox. UD teaches students to think straight, keep humble (meek, at least—it certainly didn’t teach us aspiration), get married (it doubles as a dating service) and have kids. This is not your target demographic when looking for donors. If you’re expecting a sizable proportion of your future operating costs to be paid by your alumni, you should act a little more like a venture capitalist, and consider scholarships a sort of investment in students. That is, one of the most important things you can do to this end is to put considerable effort into making sure that students are well equipped to be successful by popular standards and make money in the outside world. (I see that UD’s career services has totally new people, and two, now, instead of three. There should more like 10, they should deserve $80K+ / year salaries [Harriet Cousins didn’t even come close], and they should force themselves on students. Like, require one credit every year to be devoted to making yourself marketable, professional, and a money-maker. [I just wanna say that I think this my best idea from this entire post.])
  9. If alumni don’t give gifts, who will?

    Other alumni. I bet if you look at the stats at other schools, gifts follow a typical power law: 20% of the alumni contribute 80% of the donations. Correct me if I’m wrong. With numbers.

  10. The list of “circumstances” that excuse less than generous giving, “a gaggle of children, gambling debts, a costly drug habit” made me laugh. But you gotta be careful of flippancy when you’re asking for money from people who are struggling with very real circumstances, e.g. $10K+ of tuition debt owed to Fannie Mae at 10% APR, no income due to being in a seminary/convent (and debt on top of that), or a countable number of children who get sick just about every couple of months and take so much care that one of the parents can barely leave the house.
  11. What I want is the ability to donate to current or future professors (a CS department needs CS faculty). It’s the professors that I care about. I know that they haven’t changed, at least. Until then, I will feel very conflicted about giving back to the mottled, amorphous, university that I left so recently.

I numbered this list to encourage discussion. Few will agree with my points. I hope more will argue with them.

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14 Responses
  1. Two points where I disagree:

    1. You make a big deal of out how UD alumni are poorer than alumni from other schools. The thing is, this doesn’t matter. UD isn’t asking for you to donate a hundred dollars. One dollar will do. What they want isn’t money from alumni so much as better stats, because better stats means better rankings and more large-scale donations. (Well, they want you to donate a hundred dollars if you can, but yeah, you probably can’t, and they know that.)

    2. You also compare how you can’t control where your donations go to how taxes sometimes wind up at Planned Parenthood. The thing is, people who object to the taxes thing do so because they see it as material cooperation with intrinsic evil. Do you really see the pharmacy school as intrinsic evil, or just as less good that it could be? If the latter, remember that the pharmacy school was even a possibility only because UD is constantly almost broke, and they need to find money somewhere. By refusing to donate, you’re basically saying, “I like what you do, but I see some stuff I don’t like so I won’t donate,” when the things you don’t like are attempts to cope with the fact that no one is donating. (And yes, no one is donating, compared to schools with similar demographics. I’d try to find the stats but this is an internet debate. Well also I’m in a rush, I might return with them later.)

    I don’t see these as unrelated. Both involve UD alumni making the perfect the enemy of the good. They can’t donate “enough,” so they won’t donate; the school isn’t perfect, so they won’t donate, forcing it to be “creative” in finding money, which usually involves things that run contrary to the school’s ideals, yes, but to which there aren’t any good alternatives.

    The question before all UD alumni is this: do I think the school is worth trying to save, or do I want to write it off as a lost cause? If the former, donate. Refusing to donate in order to “make a point” just hurts the school more. Yes, there are battles that need to be fought, but this isn’t the place to fight them. I’d understand cutting off donations as a reaction to e.g. the school of ministry debacle–but you can only do that if you were already donating in the first place.

  2. Lizzie says:

    Hi Chris,

    Before I respond, I would like to clarify that I have not seen or read the letter from Dr. Moran. Perhaps it is sitting in my mailbox at home right now, though I have to admit that I don’t always read everything that comes to me in the mail from UD and particularly the Office of Advancement (after all, I work at the University, so I am typically pretty aware of what is going on). In fact, for a while I usually received two of everything in the mail-one addressed to me and one address to my husband, who is also an alum. Clearly not the best use of UD’s resources (or the earth’s, for that matter). At any rate, I would like to provide some responses to a few of your points.

    1. I have to agree with you here-“Moneybomb” is a poor choice of word, especially since I am fairly confident that this is not an actual word, but rather a misuse of two separate words.

    3, 4. UD’s alumni giving rate hovers just below 10%-this statistic was actually included on a marketing piece from the Office of Advancement that I received sometime last year. Compare that percentage to this data from U.S. News and World Report: http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/09/15/alumnis-top-10-most-loved-schools. Now, you make a good point that the amount of dollars that our alumni donate will never compare to the amount donated by alumni from some other universities, but as Joseph pointed out above, what is being measured here is the percentage of alumni that donate, not how much they actually give. You’ll notice that two of the colleges on this list are Catholic, one being TAC which we are so often compared to (and which we compete with for students). Though perhaps not as many of their alumni find themselves in the same situation as UD families in terms of family size and income, surely some of them do, yet they still manage to donate to their alma maters.

    6. You actually can designate donations to UD to a specific department or program. For example, you could designate that your donation go to the Rome Program, to the English Department, to the Music Department, etc. As to a few of the other things that you mention in this section, you should know that Marilyn Walker was not fired (as far as I can tell anyway, though I recognize that the only support that I have for making this statement is the official response from the University-there is always the possibility that there are other things at play that aren’t made public, though I don’t think that is the case here), the pharmacy school plans are completely obsolete and have been since before you and I graduated, and a certain number of undergrads are necessary for the survival of the university (in addition to alumni gift revenue, we also rely on tuition revenue to keep our school operating. I do see your point here, as I am assuming you are concerned that either UD will grow to be too big or that we will admit students who aren’t up to UD’s standards academically. I assure you that the academic caliber of our students is increasing, and that there are not plans for UD’s undergraduate population to grow exponentially. I work in the admission office, so I can say these things with confidence.).

    9. I imagine that your supposition here is correct, but again the goal is to try to increase the giving rate of alumni. Though I am sure the Office of Advancement would love it if every alum had the largess to make sizeable donations, I think we all know that isn’t the case.

    Anyway, Chris, I hope that you will take some of my response into consideration. I think it is a good thing that this is a topic of conversation among UD alumni. Regardless of where we stand on this issue, the mere fact that we engage in lively discussion about it shows that we care about UD and the direction that it is going. We should be concerned with the state of our alma mater, and I appreciate you taking the time to reflect on that here.

    Best,

    Lizzie

  3. Tommy Ryan says:

    Just one point, in response to:
    “Certainly, secrets and common knowledge are different (I did not know about this embarrassment that UD had to wake up to every morning). But I’m curious now. How low is “embarrassingly” low?” and “If the numbers are indeed significantly statistically lower than other schools with less alma-mater-shaming alumni, perhaps there is a reason….[Univ of Chicago comparison]”

    What he means by shockingly low is that only 10% of UD’s alumni donate any amount of money (be it $1 or $1,000), not how much we receive in donations. The point in regards to a low % of alumni giving back is that foundations and other organizations are unlikely to give UD any grants, donations, etc. if UD’s own graduates don’t give any money. So while they are asking for money, that’s only half of it, they’re also asking to increase the donating-alumni % (which will result in more donations/grants by other means).

  4. Chris Petter says:

    Chris, in response to your most extensively argued point, the sixth, and, Joe, in regards to your reply, the quite good second point, I must cite the official UD Pledge Form (print version). The second blank space, following only the amount one is donating, asks the donor if he would like to specify where exactly the donation goes. Nonetheless, I still think the discussion itself is awfully important, especially the thought about making the perfect the enemy of the good.

    And to add a little bit to the discussion, I’ll just point to the website which contains a few stats that might help out.

    http://alumni.udallas.edu/s/818/social.aspx?sid=818&gid=1&pgid=1907
    http://alumni.udallas.edu/s/818/social.aspx?sid=818&gid=1&pgid=1904

  5. Andrew Bach says:

    1. I do not have the exact linguistic/philological origin, but I believe the term has its origin in the 2008 Ron Paul Presidential campaign. Supporters of Paul planned and marketed “Moneybomb” days on days of particular significance to (i) Get the mainstreams media attentions in order. It is hard to ignore single day giving records and or large amounts of giving in a single day; (ii) Make supporters and those who donate feel explicitly like they were part of something both emotionally (Using December 16th because of its Revolutionary war significance, for example) and objectively (I want to be apart of that huge donation amount!); (iii) breaking the inertial reluctance of others to give because the sheer momentum of a million dollar donation day is very large. It may be an ugly term but it works.

    2. “aggressive peer to peer marketing” is MBA talk for getting alumni to egg each other on. It is far more effective to have a friend call you up and say, hey you should give $5 to UD today so our giving percentage goes up, than to have someone you don’t know do the same. Yes, MBA talk is not inspiring, but unfortunately we live in a world where such communication is the norm and makes points far quicker than longer prose. I’m sure we have all used some rather distasteful shortened phrases on resumes, but the fact is points need to be made. Consider it marketing poetry to make the economy of words more palatable.

    3. This webpage has numbers. Like someone above mentioned it is measuring alumni participation, not gift value. The almuni participation is important for reasons Tommy listed. 11% is low compared to other schools.

    6. You can give directed gifts.

    7. The was another UD of yore that made Playboy as a top party school. Clinging to the past is all well and good, but becoming antiquated is not. To say I won’t give because they might change something is not founded on logic, whether one gives or not things will change. Unfortunately, there is no Galt’s Gulch out there for Liberal Arts Universities. There is nothing stopping giving you from contributing to those memories you cherish, if every year on ground hog’s day 1,000 people donated $5 in memory of Kegs and Eggs, someone would take notice.

    8. Its not about the money, (well it is, but it isn’t). It’s about being able to go to people with excess money and saying look at how happy our alumni our with their education, more than x% of alumni give back to the school.

    [ I hope you see the irony of decrying “aggressive peer to peer marketing” and then calling for time spent devoted to making a student “marketable, professional, and a money-maker.” They are from the same realm. One follows the other. Is it unfortunate that unique personality is not enough in the world anymore? yes. But we live in the world even if we aren’t of it and we have to play the game]

    I hope your points make it to the Advancement office. I think they are a real insight into the way people view giving to the school and the motivations and roadblocks that exist. Thank you for writing it down.

  6. Laughable says:

    “”If alumni don’t give gifts, who will?”

    Other alumni. ”

    Hahahah, what?!

  7. J Boyne says:

    I usually don’t take the time to comment on articles, especially when most of the other comments have made all of my points. So I will just say that a post this misinformed deserves another rectifying it. That is, only if you want to preserve whatever integrity this blog has.

  8. Rebecca says:

    So much for peer-to-peer marketing! Thanks for opening up this discussion with your peers, Chris. Peer-to-peer marketing at its finest!

    I agree with the comments made above, but I would like to respond to a particular point made in the post.

    “11.What I want is the ability to donate to current or future professors (a CS department needs CS faculty). It’s the professors that I care about. I know that they haven’t changed, at least. Until then, I will feel very conflicted about giving back to the mottled, amorphous, university that I left so recently.”

    If you solely care about the professors of UD, then you don’t care about the mission at all. If that’s how you feel, then I’m afraid you’ve managed to escape without even the slightest understanding of what our school is actually all about. What is education if it is not the passing on of knowledge from one person to the next — at a university, from professors to students? The professors are obviously a necessary component for the existence of the school, but so are the students. You can’t deny that.

    As time goes on, the faculty change as does the student body as does the administration and staff. You cannot avoid this change. Ultimately, what is the point in asking for money from alumni? Why does UD need the money? Why do they ask ALUMNI for the money? Aside from the point emphasized several times above (that we need alumni participation in donating for the statistical difference to yield more grants), it is largely because this school is a business, no doubt, but a business with a mission. The money is used to keep the school running so high school students with a passion for the liberal arts and the search for Truth, like you and I were once upon a time, can go to UD and receive an education that is like no other with the same amazing professors that you care so much about. Leave it up to the hired professionals to determine what is done with the money. If you care so much about what they’re doing with the money, politely ask President Keefe. He cares about your time and attention, and he will talk to you about their agenda.

    Remember that in essence this is actually about the students, professors, and what goes inside the classroom. Supporting the school is about giving students the opportunity to experience the same amazing education that formed you as a person. What goes on inside the classroom hasn’t changed. But if you are so afraid that it has changed, if you believe that UD is changing and you don’t want it to, then why don’t you round up all your old classmates, go back to UD, and sit in class with your cherished professors? Make it go back to the way it was when you were here. An idea as ludicrous as your point, but would that make you feel better about donating knowing that it hasn’t changed, that it’s the same way it was when you were here? That’s what you’re saying, after all, when you complain about the school changing.

    Ask yourself what it would actually take for you to donate, if you care so much to do so. Otherwise, stop complaining and move on. In the meantime, please proudly carry around your degree from the “mottled, amorphous university” where you studied for four years. Make sure to tell people that’s the kind of school you went to when they ask you where you received your undergraduate degree. When you see the heinous look on their faces after you say something like that about your alma mater, be sure to mention that it’s not your fault it’s that way. After all, you don’t do anything about it.

  9. Joe De La Torre says:

    9. This whole argument is self-contradictory.

    “If alumni don’t give gifts, who will?….Other alumni”
    To say that other alumni will pick up your slack is a pathetic excuse for not contributing to our alma mater.

    “20% of alumni contribute 80% of donations”
    I’m not arguing that this is false. However, when comparing percentages, you also need to compare numbers. “Without numbers where numbers are due, adverbs are just fluff.” In the same way, without numbers where numbers are due, percentages are just fluff. So, why don’t we get rid of the fluff? Let’s say that 20% of our alumni was contributing $200,000/year — which equaled 80% of total donations taken in (I just made up $200,000 to give us a reference point; don’t take that number seriously). We could easily double, triple, or quadruple these contribution numbers if we could raise UD’s alumni giving participation rate from 14.65% to 40 or 50%.

  10. Joe De La Torre says:

    ^^^
    Also, part of the reason that UD’s alumni giving rate is so low is due to the fact that many people hold your opinion: “If alumni don’t give gifts, who will?…Other alumni.” Holding this stance will only further drive down our alumni giving rate.

  11. Pseudonym says:

    1. Calling it a “money bomb” discourages me from giving, at least not until after the money bomb.

    2. “Aggressive peer-to-peer marketing” does sound trite, especially from a school that prides itself on making independent thinkers, i.e. people who are not swayed by aggressive peer-to-peer marketing.

    3 & 9. Numbers are now had. I suppose that is embarrassing. Also embarrassing is some commentators inability to recognize a simple rhetorical flourish.

    4, 5, 8, & 10. You are right to point to the economic woes and social and vocational circumstances of many UD alumni. The response that one could simply donate $1 is true, I suppose. On the other hand, there are a great many organizations and individuals asking for donations. When you are strapped for cash, it is not unwise to be discreet about where you choose to donate.
    On a related note, I feel pretty stupid donate $1, but many will say that I ought to donate just to raise the percentage of donating alumni. After all, they say, the money bomb is really to increase the percentage of donating alumni. On the other hand, if they simply wanted to increase donating alumni, a money bomb to raise $100K is counter-intuitive. Would you not have, instead, a “alumni donor percentage bomb,” perhaps with a goal of raising the alumni donor percentage to a whopping 15?

    Furthermore, Chris Brown’s point that the university ought not to make donations a jocular point ought to be well noted. Making jokes about people’s possible financial situations when asking for money is rather insulting, as if the person did not have actual problems. Furthermore, it betrays an adolescent mode of garnering funds. One cannot just say, “Donate! It’s Great,” add a joke and expect it to happen, as if this were a TGIT banner hanging in Haggar.

    Other #’s.
    Money is fungible, as Chris pointed out. I don’t think anyone has questioned that point much. I’d like to push it further. Even if you donate to a particular department or area, does that actually matter? I recall several years ago a big bunch of UDers got rather angry about the idea of donating to Susan G. Komen, claiming that the Komen foundation supported Planned Parenthood, which was and is true, so far as I know. Those supporting the donation drive (volleyball, I think?) countered with the point that the donations would be ear-marked not to go to such organizations as Planned Parenthood. Oh joy. But the response is obvious. Supporting the Komen Foundation by donating to the “ear-marked against PP pile” does not mean you are going to support PP financially. No. It simply means that they will dump your money into one account and could then move “other” money to the PP stack. Money is fungible. So even if one were to donate to particular causes, I’m not sure if that makes a difference on the grand scale. They can still “funge” money to support bogus projects. So my point there is, don’t pretend that the simple ability to donate to this or that fund completely solves the problem.

    Final point, though related. We seem to be in a vicious circle. UD is low on cash SO the board hires a new president who is supposed to raise money SO the president, generally unfamiliar with the ideals of the faculty and students, makes moves that many think are contradictory to their ideals SO alumni complain and stop donating SO the administration says that the lack of donations are the cause for the school’s need of another bogus project SO the administration pushes the bogus project through SO the bogus project costs more than it’s worth SO UD is low on cash…

    That’s a vicious circle. There are two ways to solve it. Either, the alums donate a ton of money to an administration that they don’t particularly trust or the administration supports projects that the alums like in order to gain more trust and, therefore, donations. For my part, considering the consistency of the administration to fail to recognize where the issues lie, I don’t have much sympathy for their mendicancy. When the university administration is supporting more projects that correspond to the Catholic liberal arts tradition as it has been lived at UD generally, then I will donate, but until then, I guess my money will just go to the new St. Greg’s.

  12. C Wolfe says:

    I heard about your post from some mutual friends Chris, and having looked it myself I’ve got to say I’m surprised. You really make some really interesting and potentially useful points here!

    Your point #8 about the lack of statistics showing the proportion of big givers to small givers is well taken. That would be an interesting stat. Would it be improper to release that information, and have us all guessing who the big givers are? Actually, I don’t think it would be improper.The biggest givers have their names attached to buildings (e.g.Hagar and Haggerty). Other big givers and potential big givers are given spots on our board of trustees. It’s a sad fact that money controls the direction of schools- but it’s still a fact. Donors can influence the agendas of the schools they fund, just like lobbyists influence politicians. There is going to be factional conflict generated by this moneygiving… so why not have more transparency about it?

    Accepting #8, I think it denies point #6. Giving to a single department or professor might seem to encourage division and strife within the school- but that’s a reality, and it’s how chairs get endowed. So I don’t think #6 and #8 are consistent.

    Distanacing myself from the debate a little bit, I think the overall implicit conclusion of your post that we shouldn’t give is wrongheaded. Of course we should give if we love the school! …even if the add campaign seems to be written by some trendy marketing exec. I think it’s good that they’re trying something different, the evidence seems clear to me at least that we’ve been failing. All the same, interesting points Chris

  13. C Wolfe says:

    I’d like to amend what I said in the above post… I was in an overly Madisonian mood last night. Universities aren’t pure democracies. Good universities should, at the margins, reject some offers of money in order to maintain the purposive end of the school. For example: TAC rejected money from Carl’s Jr. Hamburgers after that company started airing lewd commercials: (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholic_college_asks_propornography_board_member_to_step_down/)
    A more drastic example of rejecting money is Hillsdale, which accepts no money from the Federal government. I’m of the opinion that accepting money from bad sources helped damage many good Catholic schools, including Notre Dame (see Hesburgh relation to Rockefeller in the Land O’ Lakes statement: http://www.catholichistory.net/Events/LandOLakesStatement.htm).
    But part of my earlier point I think is valid, that the money a school accepts is bound to influence it in some way. Hopefully it’s in a positive or neutral way vis a vis UD’s mission.

  14. C Wolfe says:

    On third thought, I think political influence may be the wrong analogy for this situation. A better analogy might be deciding whether to give to the first or second collection at Mass- one goes to the general fund of the church, the other goes to a specific designated project of the church that the parishioners are informed about. Is giving to one as opposed to the other in some way unjust? Of course not

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