Column: A Donation Dilemma
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 01:02
“Sesqui and I Know It.” As graduation comes terrifyingly closer, this rather annoying tagline has become a frequent trespasser inside my inbox. These emails all contain the same theme: please donate to the senior gift fund. Though I haven’t contributed yet, I have still formed a strong opinion about these emails.
The Boston College Alumni donation organization is a smoothly run operation. Various members of the senior class, alumni, and even a Board of Trustees member have all sent emails through the Senior Gift Fund, praising their BC experience and encourage our graduating class to donate. Most importantly, donations can be funneled into a specific program or organization. I would hesitate before donating into a general BC fund, as I could be unwillingly financing nefarious actions like building a new, frappe-less Chocolate Bar (yes, I’m still bitter). This group-specific donation method is an appealing alternative.
Despite these positive aspects, Sesquicentennial donation emails still make me uncomfortable. I remember watching PBS pledge drives in between Cyberchase episodes, where a network executive would solemnly inform viewers that without sufficient donations, PBS could go out of business. I remember going to Broadway musicals and chuckling at the benefactor titles that became increasingly pretentious with each successively higher donation level. Finally, as a politics junkie, I have seen the dark fundraising underbelly of political campaigns. My inbox is still regularly ambushed by emails begging for donations. Even supposedly frank emails, where a candidate apologizes for repeated donation requests, has an underlying financial motive. The email’s crafter hopes that this disarming honesty will inspire supporters to contribute—after all, even these remorseful emails contain a donation link at the bottom.
I have no doubt that Senior Gift email authors are completely genuine and benign in their love of BC and their gentle request to donate. However, their solicitations contain the same guilt trip tool that infects every fundraising organization. An alumni email that claims their donation honors their experience at BC begs the question—am I ungrateful if I don’t donate? An email that proudly cites the huge percentage of seniors that have already donated unwittingly makes me shameful for not donating already. Although the Senior Gift Fund has pure intentions, it still utilizes the same twin imperatives of any large fundraising organization. Donate: and you’ll receive a reward or title, and donate: the group needs you and as a current or former member you are obligated to help.
In my opinion, Senior Gift solicitation should abide by the KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) principle. A catchy slogan or colorful sticker will not inspire me to write a check to the Alumni Fund. A personal narrative explaining why an alumni donated will only make me feel guilty for not contributing myself. The Senior Gift webpage has a superb FAQ about donations. It explains how university rankings are affected by alumni donation, and how tuition and athletics revenue alone is not sufficient to cover University expenses. This FAQ presents a logical rationale for why I should donate to the Senior Gift Fund, and more importantly, does not employ the carrot and stick, reward and shame tactics of most fundraising organizations. While I admire current seniors for sharing their personal motivations for donation, a simple email with links to both this FAQ page and the online donation portal would have been equally if not more affective in convincing me to contribute. I have loved my BC experience and intend to contribute once I have successfully sold my soul for a law degree and huge salary. Please don’t make me feel guilty for not donating before graduation.