I don’t like being persuaded to take part in a scam. OK, “scam” is a bit harsh, but for awhile I couldn’t shake the feeling that the university’s efforts to encourage student giving last spring seemed contrived. However, after speaking with a director at the Rice Annual Fund, I’ve come around and downgraded my cynicism about the whole thing.
For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember the program, here’s how I remember it: Someone at cabinet announced that everyone in our college should make an online monetary contribution to Rice because the highest-participating college would win some contest or prize. The size of the contribution was irrelevant. “OK,” I thought, “I can do that. No skin off my nose.” So I donated $0.01, making sure to check the box for my residential college. I have since learned that the campaign was actually geared to stimulate giving by class, not by college. So if a college had the most participation for a class, that college would get a stipend for its budget the following year.
Hanszen didn’t win for any of the classes, and I quickly forgot about the whole thing until I saw my name (full name, with “Mr.” and everything), along with the names of the other students who gave, on a full page advertisement in the first Thresher of this school year. This heightened my skepticism and ultimately motivated me to reach out to someone from the Rice Annual Fund to learn more.
I originally had two main problems with encouraging donations from current students: I don’t think it an effective strategy to encourage future giving, and I fear that a desire to inflate Rice’s rankings in U.S. News motivates the program.
As I’ve said, my cynicism got the best of me when I first considered the Undergraduate Class Giving Campaign. I thought that we were being encouraged to give so that we could be groomed into loyal donors for the rest of our time after Rice. In reality, though, there is more going on with the University’s student giving campaigns. Asking students to think about giving to Rice allows them to reflect on all of the privileges that we enjoy here and that make this such a unique place that we are all fortunate to be a part of. Of course, if these reflections result in students feeling compelled to give in the future, then I see no problem with that.
I am usually quick to jump on any action that caters to college rankings, but that may be less of a factor with the undergraduate giving campaigns than I initially thought. While it is true that giving participation is a factor considered in most rankings, there are other groups that look at participation too. Many corporations and foundations that are thinking about supporting Rice, through grants for example, consider the giving participation rate when deciding whether or not to donate. Though not ideal, I can’t say I blame Rice for doing their best to come up with a good number for that.
In conclusion, I think that student giving campaigns offer an excellent opportunity for each of us to think about our own Rice experiences. Ask yourself, “Is this a community that I would like to give back to? What shaped my experience the most, and what made that possible?” I think we should all mull over questions like these at least once before our time ends here, and hopefully giving campaigns can jumpstart these thoughts.