Gimmie, Gimmie


‘Tis the season for giving, when we remember to be charitable to our fellow mankind and perhaps be a bit more generous about spreading around our own abundance from the previous year. It should come as no surprise, then, that this time of year is also the time for many charitable organizations to put together one last year end pledge drive or donation campaign. In general I find this annoying but forgivable: I’ve done my fair share of fundraising for a charitable organization or two *cough-bluedamenpictures-ahem* and the whole point of the season is to think about giving so chances of actually getting a donation are pretty good.

However, there is a down side of so much spirit-of-giving in the Christmas season: donor fatigue. I like to think that a person’s charitable sensibilities are a substance like ice; at first the point is to make it melt just a little bit so that you can win just a little bit of their liquid assets- but if you go back to the well too many times it gets brittle and you can very easily find yourself in over your head. You can only ask people for money so many times before annoyance sets in to the tune of: “I just gave to the Salvation Army, the guy on the street corner, a local theatre company, a veterans organization, money for the Red Cross and an alumni contribution- and you want more?!”

It was an alumni contribution request that finally cracked my ice this season. Recently I received a “Report of Giving” which is a thing to behold: a slick tome cataloging the names of each and every donor, partner, trustee, scholarship and bequeath on full sized, glossy, magazine stock. It weighed just shy of one pound and was fully 92 pages long, not counting the cover, and featured articles and photographs designed, I assume, to reassure us that our money was being Well Spent. My first thought was: “how much did that booklet cost?”

Now, I don’t know a lot about publishing, but I know that that 46 full color, double sided, spreads on heavyweight glossy stock paper costs a goodly sum. Multiply that by the number of copies needed for the thousands of donors who would receive one (presumably in order to find their own names in it- that was what I did) and adding on the cost of design, layout, binding, shipping (first to the university and later to the alumni recipients) and THEN assuming that copies would also be sent to alumni who had never donated in the hopes of courting their favor… well, I think you can see where I’m going with this.

I’m a big believer in supporting my Alma Mater. I believe it is part of being a responsible, dutiful, alum to contribute to the educational well-being of successive generations of students in a financial way. On top of that I believe that it is part of being a responsible, dutiful American to voluntarily donate a portion of my income to charitable organizations for the greater good. So periodically I will send a contribution to the university completely unsolicited. But, being of very moderate means, my donations have always been very moderate. In recent years they have become very modest indeed due to circumstances that are probably common enough that they don’t require elaboration.

Now, as someone who makes such a small contribution I’m sure I don’t have much sway in the way the larger pool of money is spent, but I like to believe that it is being spent wisely. I like to imagine that it contributes in some small way to the physical campus or to a particular student’s academic future or maybe even to the reputation of the school for academic excellence. I don’t like to imagine that my contribution was eaten up with the vanity printing of a year-end report that will end up in the trash.

I don’t care that my name is printed in it: if I were given the choice between seeing my name in print on some donor list or having my money go to the school in a more meaningful way than the production of a self-impressed magazine I’d rather anonymously slip twenty dollar bills under dorm room doors. Even if they are spent on Easy Mac and beer they will make a bigger difference in a student’s life.

This has turned into a bit of a tirade, but my point is that as a contributor to a charitable organization- and this applies to ANY charitable organization- I want to believe that the money has been well spent. Unless the point of your organization is to create stylish mailings or coordinating extravagant events then I don’t find them very good tools for self promotion. If you have enough money for gloss stock then you have quite enough money for building maintenance. If you have enough money to print 92 pages of donor names then you have enough money to buy books for the library collection. Stop usingĀ  my money to ask me for more money.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on December 20, 2011.

2 Responses to “Gimmie, Gimmie”

  1. The last sentence sums it all up. Charity is big business.

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