November 17, 2010

The Great Class Gift Debate

Toward the end of the last academic year, the senior class (the Class of 2010) engaged in the annual ritual of raising funds for the "senior class gift". In an effort to top the Class of 2009's 96 percent participation rate, the '10s attempted to solicit contributions from 100 percent of seniors. Inspired, the Class of 1960 agreed to donate $1,000 for every percent of the '10 class that participated, and an additional $100,000 if the class reached 100 percent participation.

For those who have not yet been subjected to the class gift campaign, it is quite the ordeal. A committee of your peers, charged with meeting ever higher expectations, have access to the names of all seniors who have not contributed. They contact these seniors repeatedly until they give. The process, though effective, has more than a few drawbacks. Other than being devilishly annoying, it also risks putting undue pressure on seniors to contribute when they may not care to do so.

This happened in the last campaign. The name of the last holdout, who had her own reasons for not donating to the class gift, was released. She was criticized in College media (including an attack by a former contributor to this blog). The ensuing controversy earned Dartmouth a spot in The Chronicle of Higher Education for the coercive pressure placed on seniors to donate.

Today, Senior VP for Advancement Carrie Pelzel submitted an explanation to Dartmouth alumni. She claims that the issue was unfortunate, but not evidence of a systematic problem with Dartmouth's fundraising process. With all due respect to Ms. Pelzel, her letter does little to put the issue to bed.

The full letter after the jump.

Dear Alumni Leaders,

You may have seen recent news stories about Dartmouth’s 2010 Senior Class Gift (SCG) campaign or been asked about it by fellow alumni. I want to make sure you have accurate information about the campaign and a clear statement from us about our fund-raising practices.

The Senior Class Gift effort is led by four student interns, a committee of student volunteers, and an administrator from the Dartmouth College Fund Office. Funds raised from the SCG support student scholarships.

The Class of 2010 volunteers, including 70 members of the Class, formed a strong and enthusiastic group. They wanted to demonstrate their support for Dartmouth and their successors, setting an ambitious goal of 100 percent participation (the Class of 2009 had achieved 96 percent participation). They recruited more volunteers than any previous senior class and worked diligently to educate their peers about the value of the Senior Class Gift. Inspired by the spirit of the ’10s, the 50th reunion class, 1960, offered a challenge, pledging $1,000 for every 1 percent of seniors who donated, and an additional $100,000 if they achieved 100 percent participation.

All volunteers involved in the Senior Class Gift effort went through several training sessions in which they were prepared to ask for gifts. The training emphasized handling information about donors with confidentiality and respect. As in any volunteer effort, SCG volunteers were kept up to date on who had given and who had not, since they needed to solicit those who had not yet participated while thanking those who had. The Senior Class Gift interns ran an exceptionally thoughtful and creative effort.

One student declined to donate, and regrettably, the student’s name was revealed. That student was subjected to criticism in the Dartmouth.

The student leaders and all of us in Advancement believe strongly that giving is a personal choice. We respect the right of individuals to make that choice and deeply regret that this incident occurred. We do not encourage or condone releasing names of students who do not contribute to the Senior Class Gift.

In future campaigns, we will continue to teach about the role of philanthropy in the life of the College, and we will discourage setting goals that create unrealistic expectations and undue pressure.

I want to close with thanks to the 2010 SCG interns who worked tirelessly over many months to show their appreciation for their Dartmouth education and to help make it available to their successors.

Best regards,

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:53 PM

    Um ... which came first? "the spirit" of the 10's or "the challenge" of the 60's? News reports at the time indicated the latter; this spin might make me a little more inclined to forgive -- a little.