[Paleopsych] CHE: A Hypocritical Oath
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Mon Apr 18 14:45:39 UTC 2005
A Hypocritical Oath
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.4.22
THE FUND RAISER
A Hypocritical Oath
They spend their days urging donors to give, but do people in
advancement contribute to their own alma maters?
By MARK J. DROZDOWSKI
Are fund raisers also philanthropists and volunteers? Do we contribute
money and time to our alma maters?
That was the topic of a recent online poll on the Web site of the
Council for Advancement and Support of Education
(http://www.case.org), a wonderful resource if you don't mind sites
as slow as a toddler finishing a plate of Brussels sprouts. When I
submitted my answers, only 350 people had participated, which hardly
constitutes a significant sample. But the results shed light on a
The poll asked two questions: Do you give to your alma mater, and do
you volunteer for your alma mater? Just over 76 percent of respondents
said yes to the first question, while only 36 percent said yes to the
Now keep in mind that the council represents the broad spectrum of
advancement departments, including communications and alumni relations
along with development, so the poll wasn't limited to fund raisers. In
fact it was impossible to determine what percentage of respondents
worked in development. Yet the "optional comment" section, where
survey participants were encouraged to elaborate (anonymously) on
their answers, hinted that many did.
Let's first look at giving to your alma mater. About three quarters of
those surveyed did. Any college would be giddy over such a
participation rate. So as a group, we advancement folks are rather
philanthropically inclined. The flip side, of course, is that a
quarter of us don't give.
Several folks commented on the importance of leading by example. "I
can't imagine asking others to give ... without being willing to do so
myself," wrote one. Another responded that he poses similar questions
during interviews to gauge potential employees' commitment. Yet
another simply asked, "Don't we all?"
Evidently not. And that brings up a key question: As fund raisers,
should we feel compelled to support our alma maters? Are we
hypocritical if we don't?
Call me what you will, but I don't give to my two alma maters. I used
to contribute to my undergraduate college, but that was many years
ago, right after graduation, when I didn't have much money. I suppose
I still had warm fuzzies for the place. But I soon realized I was
still paying tuition in the form of student loans, and was racking up
more debt in graduate school. I declared a moratorium on further
giving until I made tons of money (that doesn't seemed to have
happened quite yet). What's more, I don't lie awake at night worrying
about the financial solvency of these two universities; last year they
raised $873-million between them. So my $50 hasn't been missed.
What about volunteering? Here the results of the poll were more
sobering. Just over a third of the respondents admitted to assisting
their alma maters. Some commented that distance prevented them from
volunteering, though one can participate in many ways that don't
require proximity. For instance, while living in Boston I helped my
college, which is in Philadelphia, by sitting on a panel of recent
graduates who had been asked to speak with prospective students and
Other comments should seem familiar to fund-raising professionals. "I
want to volunteer for my alma mater," wrote one, "[but] they just
won't take me up on the offer -- and I'm especially qualified!" Said
another: "have volunteered in the past, but they were ungrateful!" And
who hasn't heard this -- "I haven't been asked yet" -- a few hundred
I can sympathize. Following my stint on the admissions panel, I wasn't
invited to participate again. (Maybe my diatribe against the language
requirement had something to do with that.) A few years later I called
my college's development office and offered my services as a volunteer
fund raiser. The woman I spoke with sounded excited but I never heard
from her again. So I quit trying.
The most intriguing poll comments, however, didn't deal with the
questions per se. That is, many people took the debate a bit further
afield by suggesting that instead of giving to their alma maters,
people in advancement should support the institutions at which they
So let's consider that third unasked question: Are fund raisers
expected to give to the colleges that employ them, even if they're not
Here again I don't represent a shining example of propriety. That's
right, I don't give to the college where I work.
It's not that I harbor ill feelings; I simply have never contributed
to any employers. I've worked at four institutions and haven't given a
penny. Sure, my job is to prod people for money all the time, to
stress how important every gift is. Don't worry about the amount, I
say (at least to most folks). Just give something. Participation rates
matter -- just ask U.S. News & World Report. And when the plate lands
in my lap, I pass it along to the next guy without adding my two bits.
Heresy? Not necessarily. That's because I believe I already give,
already sacrifice. By working for higher education, fund raisers forgo
the opportunity to make more money in other industries. Combine that
lower pay with long hours, continual travel, and time away from
family, and I'd say we contribute plenty. Also, fund raisers change
jobs about as often as they change their socks, so many become
mercenaries seeking a higher bidder. Affinity doesn't always come
attached to a paycheck.
But why not give something just for the sake of appearances? If I take
advantage of payroll deduction and ask human resources to lop off a
few bucks every month, I won't even feel it. Then I could respond
affirmatively when donors ask if I give. And I could even claim it on
my tax returns.
Maybe someday. For now I'll continue giving modest amounts to other
nonprofits, causes about which my wife and I feel strongly. If donors
ask if I give to the institution where I work, I can tell them I'm not
an alum. And if they ask if I support my alma mater, I'll suggest
that's between my college and me.
But I will tell them that I support higher education, that I'm
dedicating my career to it. I'll tell them I put in long hours raising
money for their institution. And I'll remind them that we ask all
alums and friends to participate in some capacity, to at least give of
their time if they can't swing a financial contribution.
Perhaps some of those CASE visitors answering "no" to the giving
question feel the same way. I bet there are plenty more. We stand
together in stingy solidarity, proud of our hypocritical oath,
refusing to bow to the philanthropic pressures we're so eager to apply
Are we wrong?
Mark J. Drozdowski is a fund raiser at a New England liberal-arts
college. For an archive of his previous columns, see
Let me know if you can't retrive the last item.
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