Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

March 2, 2007

Donor inflation stains fundraising

The philanthropy arms race just keeps escalating.

Obsessed with bragging rights, colleges and universities have been tripping over one another for years in an endless sprint to set ever-higher goals for comprehensive campaigns.

To meet those goals, increasingly totaling billions of dollars, many of these bastions of higher learning have developed methods for counting donations that give a new meaning to higher math.

Faced with a nationwide decline in the share of graduates who give, The Wall Street Journal reports today, many schools have been inflating their “alumni-giving rate,” worrying more about that metric than the actual dollars given.

While the average alumni donation has grown, the Journal says, the percentage of alumni who give has declined.

So, under pressure from trustees who set annual targets for alumni-giving rates, and from magazines that count giving rates in their college rankings, development staff have become masters at the new fundraising math.

A 2004 graduate of Albion College who gave $30 her senior year but has not given since is counted by the school as a $6-a-year donor through 2009, the Journal says.

Instead of turning them off by playing numbers games, fundraisers should be working to understand the interests of donors and plug them into the work of improving the organizations and causes they care about.

Far from recognizing that philanthropy is about more than money, too many colleges and universities treat philanthropy as less than money and more as a measure of their prowess in a fiercely competitive marketplace.

That demeans donors and erodes the trust and relationships that institutions need to grow and make a difference in a troubled world.

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