College should use environmental iniatives to attract new donors

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November 7, 2008

12:12 AM

Last year, students, administrators and members of the Board of Visitors came together to pass the green fees referendum, a revolutionary way for the College of William and Mary to reduce its impact on the environment. Under the plan, the College will collect just under $250,000 annually both to fund important projects on campus and to create a green endowment.

While the funding of environmental projects will draw the most attention, I believe that the green endowment will be the most significant outcome of the approval of green fees. The green endowment ensures that the College will be able to undertake large-scale environmental projects and that the sources of funding of these projects will not run dry if outside priorities change. However, endowments of this nature are of little use until they have been given the opportunity to grow and yield interest that can be used for projects on campus.

The green endowment is a perfect opportunity for alumni and other donors looking to effect a meaningful change, by giving back to the College. However, with the budget situation as bad as it is, the College has opted to focus its attention on sources of money that go directly to operating budgets. This choice is fine, but I believe that the green endowment could be a very successful vehicle to attract the attention of untapped donors looking for new giving opportunities.

The College is perpetually hamstrung by the size of its endowment. Because of this, we should never stop exploring new possible sources of revenue and new donors to the College. Advertising the green endowment to potential donors could be a great way to get support from younger alumni who need a compelling reason to donate.

Environmentally, the logic of this is very simple: More money in the endowment means more money to make changes. The Committee on Sustainability, which oversees the money generated by green fees, is able to draw money from the portion of green fees devoted to capital projects and from interest generated by the endowment. The committee is thus limited by its small amount of collected interest.

If we want to see major changes on campus — changes like making sure all new construction achieves very high levels of Leed Certification or the construction of alternative means of power and heating generation here on campus — we need more money in the green endowment. If we want these changes made anytime in the near future, we need outside sources of funding.

On the financial side, the environment is a salient issue, and, as the consequences of global warming continue to be realized, the number of people willing to step forward to help the College do its part will continue to grow. Undoubtedly, some of these donors will be some of the College’s most dedicated supporters, but many of them will be new donors who have been waiting for a reason to give back.

It has become abundantly clear that the younger generations of Americans, those of us who will have to live with the long-term consequences of our current actions, are increasingly concerned with our environmental future. It is precisely this group of donors with which the College needs to connect to ensure its fiscal future, and environmental giving should be seen as a means to achieving this.

Not steering donors in the direction of giving to the green endowment is shortsighted. This lack of action could limit our base of support and impact operating budgets for years.

The bottom line is that improvements in efficiency save money. Many of the projects the Committee on Sustainability is looking into, like water and electricity, will eventually pay for themselves and thereafter reduce the operating budget.

The primary reason these projects are not already being implemented is that they will not produce savings for several years. But acting now will ensure that those savings do come — just in time for the next round of budget cuts.

Ben Schultz is a senior at the College.

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