While the schools make giving easy, giving effectively is much harder. In other words, is your alma mater the best place for your charitable dollars when a different college or university is doing work that better reflects your values?
Emily Jae, director of the Fund for Academic Renewal at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, joins Peter on the latest episode of Giving Ventures to discuss ways to make intentional gifts to colleges and universities that live up to our nation’s founding ideals.
The Power of Nostalgia in Higher-Ed Fundraising
Institutional-advancement officers nationwide are astute at evoking fond memories and pushing out attractive marketing materials, but Jae says donors need to be talking with faculty and students about their experience and communicating their values to university fundraisers.
“I think for most alumni, nostalgia is a really powerful impulse. We all get the emails from the college. We see the videos of students. We get the shiny brochures. And I think, for most alumni, we have really fond memories of our days on campus,” she says.
“We’re grateful for the opportunities our education has afforded to us and so there’s natural and I think really healthy instinct to want to give back but sometimes alumni don’t do the same homework on giving back to their alma mater as they might do giving to another nonprofit.”
When those mission-focused and investigative questions go unasked and unanswered, however, it’s then that issues arise, for example, when a donor realizes he or she is giving to a college or university that isn’t upholding the values it purports to champion, like freedom of expression.
Supporting Freedom in Your Higher-Ed Giving
Jae, however, does think university donors are getting choosier with their giving. “I do think the winds on this are shifting a bit. There’s a growing movement of alumni who are starting to wake up to the problems at their alma mater and who are starting to organize to defend free speech.”
Instead of pausing gifts to colleges and universities that don’t stand up for freedom of inquiry and constitutional rights, however, donors should shift their giving to institutions that still value our founding principles—in their marketing materials and in practice.
“It’s my personal nightmare that all conservative, moderate, classical-liberal donors just stop giving to higher education. I think that would be incredibly bad for our nation’s colleges and universities. I think that would be really destabilizing for our country,” says Jae.
‘Find the Good, and Fund the Good’
Jae says that blindly writing annual checks to one’s alma mater should probably stop and donors should instead should sift through the colleges and universities running important programming and staying true to their institutional values.
“For all the serious problems facing higher education, I think there is also a lot of good happening. So, my call to liberty-minded donors would be to find the good and fund the good with some healthy guardrails intact to ensure your gift is used as you intend.”
But where to find “the good”? James Piereson, president of the William E. Simon Foundation and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, in a previous blog for DonorsTrust says that donors could fund specific programs or charities that promote free-market values on campus.
“The Jack Miller Center specializes in finding and supporting academic programs that encourage civic education and an understanding of the U.S. constitutional tradition. The Manhattan Institute, where I have an affiliation, sponsors a program on the American university that has directed funds to worthy campus programs. The American Enterprise Institute has built a wide network of campus contacts, as has the Institute for Humane Studies,” he writes.
Donors have creative options to give to the programs and charities that are working to defend values a donor cares about. They aren’t stuck giving to a general fund that could be used to pay for basket-weaving classes or worse yet—classes that undermine constitutional rights.
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