College Fundraising Campaigns Gone Wild

My last post was about Columbia University's Giving Day, a successfully executed fundraising drive that used social media and an up-to-the-minute leaderboard to broadcast the total amount in gifts received by the individual colleges on campus. While Giving Day went swimmingly, this post discusses a 2010 incident at Dartmouth that demonstrates how, effective fundraising tools they may be, social media and peer pressure do come with warning labels. The college announced a fundraising drive that targeted the 2010 graduating class. According to The Dartmouth, "the Class of 1960 promised to donate an additional $1,000 toward financial aid for every 1% of students who donated... And to double its donation to $200,000" if all graduating 2010 seniors contributed at least $1.

The entire Class of 2010 participated except for one student, who declined and offered her rationale in writing. She argued that the type of pressure exerted by the campaign "teaches us [as students] to devalue the individual in favor of a 'groupthink' mentality," which she associates with the school's oppressive Greek culture. 

Zachary Gottlleib of The Little Green Blog, a popular Dartmouth-run website, posted the abstaining student's explanation in full and labelled it an "explanatory tirade [she] sent around." Gottleib criticized the student at length first in The Dartmouth and then on the blog, as well. Under a pseudonym, someone else posted a photo of the abstaining student and her name to Little Green.

The ensuing public flatulation became so severe that the refusing student wound up needing "a police escort to class on the last day of the campaign," according to The Yale Daily. Along with comparable circumstances at Cornell and Vassar, the conflict at Dartmouth gained national attention with a write up in the The Chronicle of Higher Education on pesky and unethical methods of soliciting university funds from alumni.

In due course, the Class of 1960 agreed to give the $200,000 despite the misfire. As Class Representative James Adler reflected in The Dartmouth, "It’s great to ask for money for Dartmouth with great enthusiasm, but you don’t want to take it too far.”

Increasing pressure to give yields larger amounts of money up to the point that potential donors become irritated enough to snap their wallets shut altogether. And with the startlingly efficient ecosystem of communication that Web 2.0 has created, a handful of choice words from said irritated donor can trigger a public washout faster than you can say "Hello, valued alumni."