By Dr. Walter Wendler
Fourth in a series on philanthropy in higher education.
Philanthropy is essential to all universities, especially regional public research universities. Giving from donors demonstrates their commitment and enables institutional leaders, faculty, staff and students to join hands in pursuing ideas, goals and aspirations they deem important. Giving benefits to students and contributing to such ideas in the form of empathy and compatriotism lead to the achievement of common goals for the individual and the institutional mission. In turn, this can be seen as mutual support and the opportunity to come together for success. In the case of public institutions, philanthropy sustains compliments and leverages taxpayer support.
People give for a variety of reasons. Reasons such as emotion, altruism, impact, impression, alignment of aspirations, desire to be part of something bigger than yourself, and confidence. Regardless of a donor’s motivation to give, ask them. There are, unfortunately, reasons that people don’t give. Anyone who follows West Texas A&M University knows that we take student debt seriously. College debt is a reason people don’t give. Many universities quietly and pleasantly help students rack up debt. When the phone call comes from an institution asking for help, many will be laughed at or left unanswered. We encourage people not to borrow or to borrow sensibly by calculating the debt in “the cost of living”. Education is a good investment.
Excessive borrowing for a degree is a “thorn in the flesh” of institutionalized dishonesty. Why talk about student debt in an article on philanthropy? Philanthropy begins when a student applies to the institution. Public universities must be good stewards even when trying to make ends meet in a stressed financial environment.
Other reasons people give:
Emotion- Joy, confidence, and fear of missing out are some powerful and emotional reasons to give. Donors feel that the institution has helped them for the best. Lifelong friendships, awareness of the power of “alma mater” (loving mother) and support in the development of self-invocation are emotional responses. Emotional motivations are difficult to measure, but deep feelings are powerful and can bind a graduate to the institution for life. Emotion is why, how much is determined differently.
Altruism- People who have benefited from the impact of higher education feel compelled to help others obtain the same opportunity. In a very real sense, people believe that giving is “the right thing to do.”
Impact and impression— The ego is surest accompanied by its compensating cousin, humility. Together they are a powerful force in giving. Donor recognition is essential to philanthropy. The names of scholarships, chairs, buildings, campus locations, and programs can satisfy a legitimate sense of donor ego and purpose. But more importantly, donor recognition is a beacon to others, exemplifying a donor’s belief in the organization, thereby inspiring others to follow. The legitimate appreciation of recognition demonstrates the strength of a university.
Alignment with aspirations in life—Donors are attracted by parallel activities. Alignment occurs when tithe is paid to a place of worship, supports a nonprofit organization, cares for the sick, and shares a geographic or economic interest with regional businesses such as agriculture or education in the case from WT.
They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Compatriotism, belonging to a larger group of like-minded people, is at the heart of all giving issues. Nobody wants to be alone. In some ways, such an aspiration drives every reason to give: the pursuit of a shared vision.
Trust-Individuals will not give to an organization they do not trust. Trust is earned, not given. Trust grows from actions. Donors often recognize the power of trust and this goes hand in hand with success. Graduating with a degree of value is built on trust. A college degree is like a stock certificate, valued by trust: no trust, no value, no gift.
They were asked—The University has the appropriate pride of achievement. At WT, we are shameless and proud of our work for the benefit of students, without shame. Wholeheartedly, we believe in the value and importance of the educational experience. Therefore, we do not hesitate to ask prospects to consider being part of the exceptional educational experience and important research that we offer and conduct.
Walter V. Wendler is president of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/. Todd W. Rasberry, Ph.D. is Vice President for Philanthropy and External Relations and Executive Director of the WTAMU Foundation.