Thursday, December 06, 2012

Open Letter to Vassar College

Dear Vassar, 

I graduated from your fine institution 14 years ago and to this day, some of the best friends in my life and greatest memories have come from those four years.  As a student, "in the bubble", I felt a strong connection to you.  As an alum, that connection has faded, as our relationship has become a financial one.  When my good friend Erin Schlather died unexpectedly and we worked with you to plant a tree in her name, that tree was removed for renovation of Swift Hall with no notice given to any of us.  

My good friend Montu recently wrote an email to the Dean of the College asking if we could be of any help to the college.  He is a hotelier and could offer some technical assistance for the college owned and operated Alumnae House.  I have worked on emergency planning and operations for most of my life and would be happy to review any plans or help create new ones.  Free.  As in, I can't give you $250, but my bill rate used to be $135 an hour, so I'm betting I can give you much more in sweat equity.  

This is the reply we got:

Dear Montu,

Thank you for your email.  I work with your class on class fundraising efforts and wanted to respond to your question directly.  

Unfortunately at the present time it is not part of the College's overall fundraising program to accept goods or services as in kind donations (currently we can only accept gifts of art as gifts in kind).  We do receive offers of services and requests quite frequently, so this is certainly on our radar.  I will keep your contact information and will be sure to update you if there are any changes or updates to the policy.

Again, thanks so much for the feedback.  Please don't hesitate to contact me with any other questions.


XXXXX (Development Person)

Alright VC, can we talk? Listen, as the 2008 elections have shown, the old white ladies that give you 8 Steinways in their will or priceless paintings are sadly passing away.  The fact that you know there are alums who want to help you and yet you still have nothing in place is pathetic.  Listen, I get it.  You want money.  Cold, hard and (most importantly) unrestricted cash.  Your nightmare is losing control of your money by people basically picking what kind of tree they want there or the colors of the dorm walls.  Trust me, I get it.  But, you're missing out on a whole generation.  Your fundraising still consists of the following model. 
  1. Mail out glossy catalog with pictures of trees and names of donors, with donation envelope enclosed
  2. Receive and deposit checks.  
  3. Repeat. 
Listen, that's awesome.  And simple.  And I understand why you don't want to give that up.  You want to ride that gravy train, until you hit a lump and derail.  But people give money because they feel connected.  And a glossy book and open bar on 2 Buck Chuck every five years does not a relationship make.  I feel used.  

You have incredibly talented alumni and you could involve them in lots of different ways.  I know a guy who looks like a killer in Brooklyn but has some dulcet pipes who could record your phone tree for you.  Montu could easily make you more money at Alumni House.  And I can make sure that when a dorm needs to be evacuated the school doesn't tell 250 students to "go find some friends." This really happened.  The Great Jewett Flood of 1997. I understand that there could be liability involved with volunteer work, but we're adults and went to a pretty decent college, so I'm sure we could figure it all out. 

Your alumni are changing and they're growing in a philanthropic world of Kickstarter and Donors Choose and Kiva (technically not a charity), and they're going to want a different relationship with you.  And you will need to offer that.  So why not get ahead of the curve?  Why not try something daring and new?  Why do you innovate in the sciences to bring in new students, but are behind the times in keeping them plugged in.  

Final Story: I attended a college fair in Brookline, MA as an alumni volunteer several years ago, and got paired up with Caitlin and JA, two charming and brilliant women who graduated 5 years after me.  And just talking to them, not even about college, made me again realize how special Vassar was and is.  And it made me donate more to the school because I felt that connection, even third party through these other women.  Help me help you make that connection.  

You are better than this.  Be better than this.   


Graham Campbell '99

P.S. Feel free to call me.  You have my number as you call me all the time to ask for money.  

P.P.S I wanted to say that I don't think Vassar is any worse at this than other colleges.  I think the relationship between alum and alma mater is flawed as the general rule where this type of fundraising happens. 


jetsetr said...

Wow. Powerful and moving letter.

maikib said...

My only comment is that I don't believe you were actually THERE for the great Jewett flood. Just sayin'.

Just kidding. So spot on. I hope they listen. I miss the Vassar I knew.

Hero to the Masses said...

Truth. I was at your place. I left the house in the very incapable hands of Secretary Reganti. Doomed.