All the President’s Fundraisers | Just Explain It to Me!
Students: (Shout simultaneously) Officer Quincy!
Officer Quincy:(Smiles proudly) What are y’all doing here so late tonight?
Student 1: We just finished the first night of phonathon! (Takes a bite of pizza.) Help yourself.
Officer Quincy: That’s rocking fundraising, old-school. Get lots of money; we need raises. (Waves goodbye, takes a slice, and walks back to the cruiser.)
Officer Quincy: (Uses radio) Dispatch. This is Officer Quincy. All clear at Waterman Hall. Just phonathon students.
Dispatcher: Copy that. Over and out. (Dispatcher records, “Students getting money at Waterman Hall.”)
Rob: (Texts) Hey, Bennie, why would someone break into Waterman Hall? Isn’t that where the advancement office is located?
Bennie: (Texts) Don’t know. What are you thinking?
Rob: (Texts) I’m thinking students are looking for that $80 million the college just announced it raised.
Bennie: (Texts) Are you sure? I’m not. Sounds thin. Get a source.
Professor Deep Throat: Get out your notebook. The college is in danger. The list is longer than anyone can imagine. It involves the entire administration; it’s incredible.
Rob: Hey, aren’t you that professor who makes Tik Toks ranting about the administration? Those dance moves are extra. Didn’t you also make students wear those T-shirts with the cringe hashtag?
Professor Deep Throat: No names. Follow the money.
President: Now for other business. (Gets up and sticks a full-length puffy coat under the door.)
Provost: (Perplexed) What are you doing?
President: People might hear us.
Provost: OK. (Purses lips. Gives side-eye to the vice president for advancement.)
President: Have we all read the article in the student newspaper? The reporter accuses us of lying about donation totals and claims I have a secret slush fund.
Chief communications officer: All social media channels are going crazy. Newspapers are calling us wanting a statement. There are about 1,000 emails in the general alumni office account alone.
Vice president of enrollment: I agree with the complaints. I don’t understand gift counting-it sounds shifty to me.
Vice president for advancement: (Reflective) We should have had a campus forum on how campaign counting works. I knew just putting something up on the website wouldn’t be enough.
President: (Angrily) I told you. Don’t bring that up ever again. I don’t like talking about money.
Vice president for advancement: (Sighs and looks down.)
Chief communications officer: Looks like you’re going to have to do one now. Let’s start on talking points. We’ll craft a boilerplate email response, a letter to campus, and set a time for a campus forum.
Vice president for advancement: Here are a few high-level talking points. (Distributes handout and reads aloud.)
- The college has policies and procedures that dictate how contributions are counted. The length of the campaign is seven years, and only funds given or committed during that period are counted. The methods follow national guidelines, and they were approved by the Board of Trustees. Every year independent auditors test entries to ensure compliance with policies and procedures. An annual report is issued on progress, and a copy is posted online.
- We count contributions given outright and those pledged. An outright gift is one transacted during the current fiscal year. A pledge is a future commitment. For example, a donor could commit in writing to contributing $5,000 for each year over five years; the gift would be counted as a $25,000 gift. A donor might list the college in their estate plans. Essentially, the value of the gift is estimated and counted, even though it may be years before the gift is received. The amount counted for a bequest is dependent upon the age of the donor.
- Contributions may include noncash items such as personal and real property. Items may be artworks, equipment and real estate. The value of these items is counted in the total.
- Just because we have raised $80 million doesn’t mean that we have $80 million to spend now. Some of the funds are used to create endowments. An endowment means the principal gift is invested and only a portion of the earnings can be spent each year. For example, someone may give $5 million to create an endowment, but only 4 percent of the available earnings annually (or $200,000) can be used.
We can flesh out these points and others in greater detail. We’ll need graphs, charts, budgets and timelines.
President: Welcome. I am glad to see so many of you here today. There seem to be questions about the campaign, and I’m here to shed light on how gifts are counted. I can assure you that the totals are accurate.
Heckler from the crowd: (Screams) Liar!
President: (Calmly) I am not a liar. We’ve worked for every penny reported.
Crowd: (Chanting, louder and louder.) Liar. Liar. Liar.
Billy the Bronco: (Huckster-like) Faster than you can say “Bernstein and Woodward,” there’s always someone crying foul and getting forensic on fundraising campaign counting. Campaign counting is very complicated (obtuse, even), but that doesn’t mean there’s corruption.
Presidents, take note. In the absence of information, people fill the gaps with speculation, misinformation and conspiracy theories. Communicate often; explain more often. Don’t just communicate when there’s a problem.
A message to constituents. I know there’s a lot of bad behavior in higher education these days, but remember, academia has policies for literally everything. Just ask for them. Better yet, see if they are online and ask someone to explain them to you. Most people are just trying to do their jobs according to professional standards.
*This essay is a fictional account for the purpose of illustration.