Improving the payback

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February 21, 2011

11:49 PM

At the risk of promoting a little vacuous ego stroking, it may be time for seniors to give themselves a pat on the back. As the latest numbers from the Senior Class Gift show, the class of 2011 has set a new record for the highest participation rate on record at this point in the calendar year, with 32 percent of seniors contributing at least the minimum $10 donation so far.

But perhaps even more impressive is that this record was reached despite some significant changes to the way the Senior Class Gift tallies its donations. In years past, the Senior Class Gift Committee counted as having donated even those students who had only pledged to give, with no actual money down. This year’s numbers, on the other hand, count only those seniors who’ve donated $10 or more.

Clearly, this is change in practices that should have happened long ago. The Senior Class Gift has always used boasts of record-breaking participation as a means of publicizing itself. We are glad to see that this year their bragging rights have been achieved legitimately.However, the “gifting process” is still, by class of 2011 President Mike Tsidulko’s own admission, slightly confused. Now, some of this confusion is by design. Part of the point behind having a Senior Class Gift at all is to make those donations in some way special. Any student is already able to give to the school via a variety of general donation channels, like the Fund for William and Mary.

For the class gift to work, it must feel different. The job of the Senior Class Gift Committee is to make sure donors believe they have received something in return — whether that is access to wine and cheese soirees, a special Green Leafe Cafe mug, or merely a warm feeling of contentment. In economic terms, it must provide a differentiated product. Yes, the process is somewhat manipulative — and can at times border on irritating — but in the end the solicitation of voluntary gifts to an admittedly worthwhile cause is hardly anything at which to balk.

But this process of differentiation also serves, at times, to limit the amount the Senior Class Gift can collect by imposing artificial restrictions — in particular by limiting the number of areas toward which one is able to donate. While seniors are able to choose a particular academic department to give to, the same level of specificity does not extend to other areas, such as student life and organizations. When donating through the more general Fund for William and Mary, however, a much wider range of donation options are available.
These may just be flaws with the design of the Senior Class Gift website, or with how it advertises its services, but the fact is, even the impression of restrictions might keep some from pledging.

The current system fails to realize that the end to which a potential donor is able to designate his or her gift is far from a trivial consideration. Any donor, current student and alumnus alike, is more likely to give to areas attached to specific memories. For some, that means a particular organization and program. The College is an environment, more so than many universities, where campus participation can often come to define a student’s college experience. If it is the Senior Class Gift’s goal to maximize donations, letting students give to what they are passionate about — be it the Muscarelle Museum, the Counseling Center, the Gateway Program or the South Asian Student Association — will certainly help. The ability to give to a particular academic department is a good start, but this must be expanded if the committee hopes to see its donation numbers truly maximized.

So seniors, keep giving. But, Senior Class Gift Committee, let them give where they please.

Editor’s note: The editorial originally noted the percentage of members of the class of 2011 who have donated to the Senior Class gift as 31 percent. This has been corrected to 32 percent.

Additionally, the editorial calls for more flexibility in potential gift designations. A process currently exists to allow designated gifts to organizations not labeled as nonprofit organizations, however it is not currently listed on the Senior Class Gift donation website as an option.

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