Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Office of alumi counter-relations and de-development

I've written before about how cluelessly patronizing and tone-deaf I find pretty much every fund-raising appeal from my alma mater, whether delivered by letter, email, or in person (I can't even talk about the go-get-'em-tiger speeches given by my class treasurer and reunion gift officer last year, which resembled nothing so much as a branch manager's exhortation to his team to meet that month's sales targets). But every single one pisses me off.

Here's the latest:

Dear fellow alumni,

It was about this time of year that each one of us carried that last armload of books back to the Library before graduating. What did you feel as you pushed them across the desk or slid them into the book drop—relief, joy, sadness, gratitude? Well, did you know that when you give to the Alumni Fund, you can choose to give directly to the Library through the "Library Resources" bucket? The Library puts your dollars to work immediately to ensure that its resources stay up-to-date, its expert librarians can help every inquiring student, and its couches are comfortable.

No matter how you took advantage of the Library during your time at [INRU], we hope you will join us in giving back today by designating your Alumni Fund gift for Library Resources! Visit [website] today.

Boola boola,
[Alumni Fund Officers]

Now, okay: I react especially negatively to this approach because I work in higher education and my own institution's library doesn't have half the resources (whether in the form of books, databases, or comfy couches) of my alma mater. But I don't think that's the whole of it; I have a hard time imagining this appeal being effective with anyone I know, even those outside of higher ed.--plenty of whom are sentimental about their college days and prone to nostalgic reveries about Saturdays spent in those grand reading rooms or prowling the stacks.

Because however callow and heedless we may have been in our youth, and however much we may have taken INRU's resources for granted, we've all been out in the world since then. We probably all have connections to or emotional investments in at least a dozen organizations with relatively shallow pockets: our local schools, arts organizations, places of worship, homeless shelters, and so on. If I'm nostalgic about my experiences in INRU's libraries? I'm going to give to a literacy organization, or a local library, or the library at my kid's school--not to an institution with a $20 billion endowment, whose libraries are nicer than those at 99% of the world's universities.

Maybe I just don't know anyone capable of giving truly big bucks--the donors the university really wants to cultivate--and maybe such people respond differently to such appeals. But as someone intensely fond of her alma mater and capable of donating annually in the low three figures (but who does not), what I want from a fundraising appeal is, first of all, a direct acknowledgement of the university's fabulous wealth. I want an acknowledgement that there are other charities out there that I might (and do) consider worthier.

That's the most important thing, actually: the acknowledgment that decades of need-blind admissions (and extremely generous financial aid) mean a lot of graduates neither come from money nor go on to it, and that even more graduates have an uncomfortable and ambivalent relationship to INRU's wealth. Then I'd like a pitch that explains why--despite those facts--I should still give: because the recession has cut into the endowment, forced them to freeze faculty lines, imperiled the university's ability to fully fund students with family incomes below $65,000. Whatever.

Maybe they can't do that second part, because it's not true. Fine. But imagining your alumni as living in a sentimental bubble, in love with nothing so much as their alma mater and untouched by any financial pressures of their own--well, that's gross. If those people exist, I don't even want to know them, much less be taken for one.

Wanna to know why I don't give even the minimal sum that covers the cost of my alumni magazine subscription? That's why. Boola boola.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sigh... Clearly there must be somebody these fundraising efforts work on... My favorite from my own tiny always underfunded alma mater was the one asking for money, but hiding in the small print (seriously they printed a single legal size piece of paper with several pages worth of information) was the fact that they were dropping 3 majors - one of those majors that had been mine (and which I had just sent in a donation to that major's scholarship fund the previous week). Um...maybe if you sent us a letter before you fired our favorite (tenured) professors we'd have had motivations to give if we'd known the program was in trouble, but after? The only reaction I had was to be royally ticked off. I've been back on campus sense (to show the boyfriend the campus) and had a lovely nostalgic rainy afternoon tramping around campus, but I am not nostalgic for the administration whom I have never completely trusted with my donations anyway (thus why I gave to the scholarship fund for my former program instead of the school as a whole)

Comradde PhysioProffe said...

If your heart weren't so bitter and cold, you would totally endow a motherfucken couch.

Susan said...

I am so with you on this. Since my alma mater has (if I recall correctly) the highest per student endowment, last year I decided to give a token amount to alma mater, and bigger donations to my own wildly under-resourced institution... (The token contributions are because participation rates are important, and I did benefit from mucho scholarships.)

Flavia said...

Anon:

Oh, that's a sad story! Sympathies.

CPP:

You're so right. I should feel more compassion for the tender hindquarters of Today's Youth.

Doctor Cleveland said...

My own filthy-rich alma mater has taken to sending me separate fund-raising e-mails for my old dormitory building. There's an e-newsletter with an embarrassing name ("Gold" should never be part of a fund-raising newsletter's title), and at least quarterly appeals to give money to dear old G____ House.

One persistent appeal is for donations to renovate the old dorm room of a famous historical figure who once lived in the dorm. That figure, of course, is from a famously wealthy family (still very much extant). It's very odd to be asked for money to restore a famous aristocrat's rooms.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to give, at least give to the library. And not to the general fund, which very well could be used for athletics or (shudder) administrative salaries.

Withywindle said...

I have deep reservations about my own undergraduate college. I only give it any money at all, deep-heeled as it is, because I still love what it gave me for four years, flaws and all. The love matters more to me than relative need--at least to the tune of $10 a year.

FWIW.

Withywindle said...

"Well-heeled."

I grow more malapropish by the blog comment.

Flavia said...

Withy:

I gave to my alma mater regularly--albeit only token amounts--before I returned there for grad school. There were specific reasons I stopped giving midway through my graduate career, but in general I think being an employee made my relationship to the university's wealth and budgetary decisions more intimate and more complicated.

I suspect that if I'd gone to a smaller or less prominent institution I might give, if only as a gesture of love and friendly competitiveness (gosh darn it, Plucky Liberal Arts College is just as awesome as Harvard! and our participation rates will show that!)--but, as the man said about being a Yankees fan, it's a bit like rooting for U.S. Steel.

One of these days I'll likely start giving again. I'm trying to get to the point in the next few years where I'm giving 5% of my annual income to charity, with the long-term goal of eventually giving between 5-10%. INRU ain't high on my list of charities, but once I get past 5% it'll probably make the list.

academiccautionarytale said...

i couldn't agree more. especially while they no longer make poorer students take out loans (really coulda used that policy!), and while i'm still paying off my loans to them... well, i consider that my monthly donation.

Kate said...

Bookmarked for next time my filthy rich undergrad U sends fundraising appeals.

Tenured Radical said...

What I find even more bizarre than the fund raising appeals I get from Oligarch, where I did my BA, an Potemkin, where I did my Ph.D., are those from my former employer, Zenith. I mean aside from the fact that I worked there and didn't go there -- I didn't get a raise for four years before I left, and last I heard the faculty got a 1% raise, even as the cut the library and built shiny new buildings. Recycle.