Gaming the System

The end of the calendar year means several important things. Not the least of which is philanthropy.

Taxpayers often wait until December to make their charitable gifts to well-deserving causes and organizations.

And beneficiaries of such charity are, of course, perfectly aware of this behavior.

Indeed, just about now is when we all start getting telephone calls and snail mail solicitations. Each of the colleges from which I have a degree, for instance, makes it point to be in touch.

Typically, someone identifying themself as an undergraduate places the call. And they begin by indicating that they want to make sure the university’s contact information they have for me is accurate and up-to-date. (Like my phone number, for instance; the one they’re speaking to me on. During dinner hour.)

And so the president of a university that does not bear such a moniker writes his constituents: “I need your help,” he plaintively begins.

You need my help? The president needs help? I’m already worried.

The help requested was a donation to the university. No matter how modest, the president wrote.

For even a $5 gift would be valued, he continued.

Because, you see, the president helpfully explained, by making an even tiny $5 gift, the university would be able to report such a gift as “alumni giving”, thereby increasing its percentage in that category for the endless list of “Best of” lists.

Those who create and then publicize their own rankings of colleges and universities do so by employing certain metrics. Percentage of students who persist and graduate from the college, for example. Number of athletic teams and in which divisions they play, for another.

Alumni giving is another category on which schools achieve their total ranking.

The president’s strategy is one intended to boost the university’s rating. He makes that plain to recipients of his appeal.

One wonders: has an appeal to our charitable inclinations for purposes of, say, student scholarship become no longer a good idea?

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