What approach to take with senior gift campaigns?

This article was originally written for the Stanford Review’s Fiat Lux blog

I noticed the following issue the first time I was sent an email about Senior Gift, but now that I have received eight separate emails, I figured I would bring up a question about the Class of 2011 Senior Gift.

In the emails that have been sent to me, the following paragraph is included to discuss the use of donated funds:

“This money DOES NOT go to the endowment. In fact, more than 75% of Senior Gift will be given out next year as financial aid so that Stanford can continue to attract the best and brightest. Almost 80% of our senior class received financial aid, so this is our opportunity to say thank you and to pay that forward to next year’s Stanford students. Even better, each dollar a senior donates is matched almost 3 to 1, which almost triples our impact.”

Maybe I am thinking more long-term, but what exactly is wrong with putting money in the endowment and having an impact on Stanford in perpetuity? It’s not as if the endowment is some monstrosity: it is a huge agglomeration of separate accounts, each with a balance and a mission. Why can’t our class create a partial fund for financial aid? Given some back-of-the-envelope calculations ($20.11 per student, ~1700 students times the 3:1 gift matching) means that we could have a $5,000 yearly payout. Forever.

Instead, the money is used in next year’s operating expenses: a sort of flash in the pan instead of a sustainable gift. This move toward using senior gift donations toward operating expenses is a growing trend at universities, which use senior gift funds as an unrestricted source of income. Thankfully, Stanford is directing the funding at an important program, but I still think that it is unfortunate that no one after the Class of 2015 will be impacted by our donations.

I will be making my donation (and no, I am not going to be the last holdout; look at this article on the Ivy League to see for how far some schools go to get participation), but I think this argument against the endowment is flawed. I don’t want a Class of 2011 water fountain in the Quad (those early classes already took the good spots). But I also want to make a sustainable contribution to the future of Stanford.