High-Pressure Fundraising = Big Turnoff

Several news stories in outlets such as The New York Times and The Chronicle have reported that two Ivy League institutions—Cornell and Dartmouth—pressured students to give to the Senior Gift drive. Although the institutional administrators did not do the pressuring themselves, they enlisted the services of students—giving them lists of “non-giving” students. In the hands of trained fundraisers, lists of non-givers are not dangerous. In fact, these lists are quite necessary. However, in the hands of students, with little fundraising training and a tendency to apply peer pressure, these lists can become harmful.

In the case of Cornell and Dartmouth, students placed repeated cell-phone calls and wrote high-pressure emails to non-givers, and even published the name of the one lone non-giver in the graduating class. Rather than being educated about giving or understanding the culture of philanthropy that these two institutions claimed to promote, non-givers felt harassed.

Yes, colleges and universities should instill a culture of giving in their students—starting immediately when students first arrive on campus. But, this culture of giving should teach the importance of providing opportunity to others in a non-pressure way.

Institutions of higher education can share stories of giving—students who succeeded due to a scholarship or donor-funded special programs that benefit students—demonstrating the impact of giving philanthropically. Those students who are leading student fundraising initiatives should also be trained to solicit their peers through example and not harassment.

Giving should always be voluntary. It should come from the heart and mind and not be the result of cajoling or shame. Of course there are times when giving does become an obligation. For example, when one serves on the board of a college, university or nonprofit there is an expectation that one will give and this obligation is communicated upon date of service (or at least it should be). However, students do not sign on for giving when they enroll in college—giving is not a condition of getting a degree. They need to be taught to give back and that teaching may have an immediate impact (e.g., a class gift), it may have a long term impact (future giving), or it may not have an impact at all.

The worst aspect of high-pressure fundraising is that it turns off potential givers. If you have any doubt, think about the last time you went shopping and the salesperson pressured you buy something. What did you do? I bet you walked out.

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