Data indicates Wren cross lost donations

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April 18, 2008

2:23 AM

Did the controversies of the past two years turn off donors? If so, are they returning now?

Data obtained by The Flat Hat shows that almost $4 million worth of donations has been retracted since the Wren cross controversy of October 2006, compared to slightly more than $125,000 retracted during the same period before the controversy broke out. The number of donors pulling gifts also more than doubled since the controversy, increasing from 53 to 115. These numbers exclude the withdrawn McGlothlin donation, which was worth $12 million.

Vice President for University Development Sean Pieri would not comment on the specifics of the withdrawn donations.

“We need to move beyond this point in the College’s history,” he said in an e-mail.

The number of donors to the College has decreased slightly from this time last year, according to Pieri. The total number of donors fell by 173 to 19,149 — less than a 1 percent change.
Pieri said he did not think the change was due to recent controversies.

“This change in the number of donors has little if anything to do with the controversy surrounding the College in the past year, but is more likely linked to the timing of a specific solicitation,” Pieri said. “Unfortunately, last year was less than ideal for revoked gifts, but … this happens from time to time.”

Pieri declined to comment on the solicitation to which he referred.

Tom Lipscomb ’61, an independent journalist and author of a report critical of Nichol that was posted on the website of Should Nichol Be Renewed, gave another explanation for the numbers.

“Now at least Sean Pieri doesn’t have to drag Nichol around like an anchor, but we are in what many are forecasting as a bad time for fundraising nationwide, with questionable markets, a possible recession and the subprime mortgage crisis hovering over all,” he said. “It is impossible to calculate the value of the opportunities lost by alumni and other donors who elected not to make gifts while Nichol was in charge, which unfortunately occurred at the height of a bull market.”

Four donors who withdrew donations due to the controversies talked with The Flat Hat. Two of them said that they were donating again since former College President Gene Nichol’s resignation.

“I strongly believe that the Wren cross controversy had a significant impact on fundraising,” said Margee Pierce ’84, who signed the “No Cross, No Cash” petition during the controversy. “I am reluctant to contribute to the general fund, but I will definitely donate to the College this year and in future years.”

Jean Zettler ’73 also withdrew donations and resumed after Nichol stepped down.

“My personal opinion, despite my utmost respect for Mr. Pieri, is that the retractions are a combination of the controversy surrounding the College and its former President, … along with other factors,” Zettler said in an e-mail. “I personally think that many alumni were not kept abreast of what was happening at the College over the last two years and as a result may have withheld donations.”

Lipscomb said he was waiting to donate until the College picked a “professional” president.

“I don’t care about the new president’s politics,” Lipscomb said. “I do care about an administrative track record in a nonprofit position and as a proven fundraiser. Nichol was hired by the BOV with neither at his previous posts at Colorado and Chapel Hill.”

Economics professor Robert Archibald cautioned that more data was necessary before correlations could be drawn between Nichol and withdrawn donations.

“It might be better to have more years of data before making any conclusions,” Archibald said.

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