Private donations constitute a bulk source of income for most post-secondary institutions. McGill is no different. In 2004-2005, total private funding for McGill was just over $55-million dollars. This may seem like a large number, but keep in mind that it’s just under $1,700 per student and with tuition covering a minor portion of total university costs, gifts are a very necessary part of the income. And while McGill enforces a no-strings-attached policy on the donations it accepts, the university uses a variety of strategies to solicit much-needed dough.
Giving until it hurtsVery little of the total buildings and land of McGill were purchased by the university itself. In 1925, Lady Roddick donated the front gates that are now a quintessential McGill symbol. The most interesting and, some would argue, best gift to McGill, came from Commander Carlyon Bellairs in 1954 when he left his beach-front estate in Barbados to the university. The Ballairs Institute is now Canada’s only teaching and research facility operating in the tropics.
Traditionally, McGill has had several programs in place to collect private donations. The first of these programs, the Twenty-First Century Fund, raised over $205-million for McGill programs. Another program is the McGill Student Phonathon Program, which is run by the Alumni Association. While the Phonathon achieves excellent results with approximately $8-million collected annually, McGill walks a fine line between tasteful inquiry and blatant solicitation when contacting alumni.
Please sir, I want some more . . .The active pursuit of alumni donations is a thorny issue. On one hand, the university needs funding. On the other hand, there is always some pressure associated with soliciting. In the case of the Phonathon, the explanation is that the students are calling to make sure information about the alum is up to date. Whether the phonathon uses this as a guise to its real objectives, or if the request for funds actually is a coincidental thing that happens in a normal conversation, the pressure to give is still there.
Mallory Dash, U3 Political Science, who currently works at the call center, explains one of the methods used to relieve the donation pressure on the alums. “Whenever the Phonathon calls people, we do ask for a certain amount to start out but it is always up to the grad himself. We take any sort of donation because really anything helps the university.” Any donation is appreciated, but the students will always push, albeit gently, for a higher donation. “There is a lot of pressure involved with calling up complete strangers and asking for a lot of money, but you would be surprised at the amount of graduates who do feel like helping their alma mater out… people do tend to look back on their time at McGill fondly and give accordingly.”
One of the most questionable tactics used by McGill and many other organizations is the concept of special treatment for those who donate more. This is where ethical questions come into play. Special treatment can be a decisive factor when choosing to make a donation, especially if the reward is something like an invitation to the Chancellor’s Dinner; an event that only a large donation to McGill can get you into. Whether they are thinking of it or not, benefactors, just like all other people, are constantly wanting to be part of an exclusive group. The solution to the question of generosity vs. ego? Donate anonymously. Or, at the very least, decline to have your name published in the donations report.