WP Remix


I didn’t write today’s post. Mark Rountree sent it in as a guest-blogger because he felt so much passion about the topic. I wish I could claim it because it’s fabulous, I agree with every word, and it even has a Halloween theme! What more could you want?!?
It’s Halloween season and I’m awash in nostalgic memories of long-ago evening tours of my hometown neighborhoods, costumed by my mom, pillowcase in hand and eager to capture the coveted candy bars (what, hard candy? Ugh). Hey, I wasn’t a perfect 9 year old, but I did know that ours was a small town back then, and I had better say Please and Thank You or my parents would hear about it.

If you’re like me, all these years later, I sit with my bowl of candy and wonder if any of today’s 9 year olds will approach the door with even a semblance of courtesy. And while we’re at it, I don’t see good old-fashioned civility in a good many 19 year olds either. Not to get all Andy Rooney on you, but what’s with the social skills of kids who are The Social Networkers, and who in the heck thought ear-buds were a good invention? How in the heck are they going to hear me telling them to say Please and Thank You? It seems that many members of the youngest generation have permanently plugged into iPods, iPads & X-boxes, and lost their ability to relate sociably with living, animate objects. Like parents or professors.

That’s why I was taken with a recent article in the New York Times that talked about an unfortunate, ugly turn in the evolution of university fundraising: College seniors who bully their peers with near-extortion in order to reach too-ambitious class-gift goals. Apparently it’s getting ugly out there, with a few campuses caught with student-generated “dishonor” rolls that, rather than applauding donors, are instead “outing” the non-givers to class campaigns. Fundraising consultant Robert Sharpe worries that “when asking becomes demanding, then giving becomes taking.” Here’s the link:

Students Feel Pressure To Donate – The New York Times

I’ve been involved with countless college annual fund campaigns—with my own alma mater, my past employers and my clients. In the last few years, I’ve witnessed an ominous escalation of dubious tactics to drive alumni giving rates, thanks in large part to the (thinly justified, undocumented) college “rankings” that have hypnotized college administrators (you can read recent rants about this in Getting Giving). It’s certainly true that young alumni giving rates can be boosted by urging pre-alumni (aka “seniors”) to give before they graduate. But annual fund staff are increasingly under the gun with declining revenues and and unsatisfactory US News rankings, so they understandably feel pressed to push student leaders to recruit their classmates for pledges. It’s time that the adults took charge of this situation.

What’s got lost in all this commotion is the underlying responsibility to first and foremost create a culture of philanthropy among students. Every generation—but especially this generation–needs our help in learning how to listen, how to empathize, and how to act charitably toward each other and toward their world. No one who is bullied into a $20 gift has learned anything about charity. One of my favorite ‘thinkers’ in this area is Katherine Fulton, who noted in her last TED Talk that the primary Webster’s definition of ‘philanthropy’ ( “goodwill to fellowmen; active effort to promote human welfare…”) says nothing about money.

This Halloween, I’m thinking hard about how, in college fundraising at least, we can use fewer tricks in order to treat our students to some real lessons in giving, not taking.

Mark Rountree is Senior Consultant & Partner at
Ashley & Associates, frequent reader of the Getting Giving Blog and an all-around good guy.

By the way, here’s a clip from Fulton’s TED Talk:

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One Response to “Giving, Not Taking”

Anonymous November 1, 2010

I can't agree with this more. The organization I work for has a strong student philanthropy campaign where 80% of students give. Unfortunately, only 15% of those go on to make a gift as an alum. I feel they give out of pressure from their peers and not because we are doing a good job of engaging and informing them about the importance of our mission and philanthropy in general. We have a "token" we give to Seniors who support at conference and I have been told that the only reason we do it is so that we can see who has not given and get them to give. If some schools are close to 100% participation, staff will make gifts in the names of the students who have not yet given.