Cross leads few to rethink donations

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February 13, 2007

1:01 PM

p. Margee Pierce, ’84, said the last thing she wants is to hurt the College. But when a friend sent her an e-mail Dec. 22 about the new Wren cross policy, she decided to withhold donations.

p. “No cross, no cash,” she said.

p. That’s the motto of an online listing of alumni connected with SavetheWrenCross.org who made the same decision as Pierce. Currently 22 have signed, including four members of the Fourth Century Club, a group of alumni who contribute $1,000 or more annually.

p. “I know for a fact that a significant number of donors have informed the College that they are withholding donations due to President [Gene] Nichol’s decision,” Pierce wrote in a Jan. 31 e-mail to The Flat Hat. “Many alumni give annually and once the decision to stop donating is made, it may be difficult to recapture those donors. A relatively predictable income stream to the College is being interrupted.”

p. Vice President for Development Sean Pieri disagrees, saying that the number of alumni listed as withholding donations is insignificant compared to the 58,303 people who contributed to the Campaign for William and Mary, of which about 70 percent were alumni.

p. Nichol announced to the Board of Visitors Feb. 9 that the record $26 million raised in the fourth quarter of 2006 put the campaign above its $500 million goal six months ahead of schedule. Pieri said that between July 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2006, 14,917 people donated to the campaign, compared to 14,859 during the same period in 2005.

p. He added that as a result of the controversy some people have withheld donations while others decided to start donating.

p. “Donations are up; the number of donors is up,” Pieri said. “Everything is trending positively.”

p. Pierce, though, felt that the fourth quarter numbers proved little.

p. “I would guess most of the final quarter donors were unaware of the policy change or the controversy surrounding it,” she said. “However, the same day I received my friend’s e-mail informing me [of the decision] … I received an e-mail from William and Mary asking me to donate money and ‘Remember the Magic…’ To many alumni, the cross is part of the magic.”

p. Pierce resides in Orange County, Calif., where she lives with her husband and three young children. She said that, despite being a busy mother, when she heard about the policy change she dropped everything to find out more.

p. She signed both the SavetheWrenCross.org petition and the “No cross, no cash” listing. She said that until last year she felt that the College was managed well, but now she fears its financial status and academic reputation will suffer.

p. “If this controversy remains in the papers and on the internet while we await the decision of the President’s committee, some students who have been admitted to several universities may choose another over William and Mary,” she said. “I have also heard from several friends with juniors in high school who say William and Mary was on their list for applications, but if the cross stays out, so will their children.”

p. Pieri said that it is not uncommon for donors to withhold contributions to schools due to various issues, but that the number of people who have contacted the College to do so is small.

p. “Any time that somebody indicates to us that they’re going to withhold a donation … we work very hard to try to restore those relationships,” he said. “Students are the ones negatively impacted.”

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