If you had told me a year ago that I would be volunteering for Annual Giving ’12, I would have laughed at you, and told you to please stage an intervention. I am a senior, and let’s face it — between writing my thesis and writing Facebook statuses about my thesis, I am really busy. But when a close friend asked me to help out, I was in dire need of some good karma and happily obliged. So now I have a stack of materials on my desk, a list of names and every excuse in the book for why we should not donate.
I don’t blame people who do not see Annual Giving as the most important and necessary cause. I also can understand that people are uncertain about their futures and do not want to commit to making a large donation. But given that all Annual Giving is asking for from seniors is a minor pledge, it seems like the problem is not simply the financial feasibility of making a donation. In fact, I think I have figured out the problem. After four years here, I can honestly say that Princeton’s ability to survive and thrive financially has never even crossed my mind. Every summer I have had a generous grant to do basically whatever I want. Every month I attend extra lectures, cultural events and programs, without ever really wondering where that money comes from.
The problem is that the major donors who make this possible have buildings named after them and thus cease to exist as people. I never really wondered about who Lewis, Feinberg or Dodd are since they really are just buildings I frequent daily. However, perhaps if students knew more about these donors and saw them as human beings who made the choice to support Princeton, it would motivate them to donate as well. Maybe when donors visit campus, they should have the opportunity to meet with students – not just those involved with fundraising or the Young Alumni Trustee – and talk with them about their experiences. The objective is not to model our lives on the people who donate to Princeton, but to at least understand what motivates their decisions to give to their Alma Mater.
I was heartened a few years ago when the USG put to a vote whether we should have a major spring concert or donate that money. I thought it was a worthy decision given the nature of the economy. Although according to the referendum the money was initially meant to go to Annual Giving, after a truly compelling argument by Adam Bradlow ’11 was published in this newspaper, the money was donated elsewhere where it could have more of an impact on those in need. I do not disagree with that decision, and at the time I voted accordingly. However, I think that the issue is that Annual Giving will never be able to make the same types of claims as homeless shelters or organizations saving lives. But just because homeless shelters and other organizations are deserving of donations does not mean that Princeton is not. I am not arguing that we should only donate to Princeton, but just because it is not the sexiest cause on the planet, does not mean that it should be ignored. As Princeton students, we have an obligation to be in the service of the nation, but we also have an obligation to future generations of Princetonians.
We are very fortunate that, as students at Princeton in 2012, we do not have to worry about Princeton’s financial stability. We can pay tuition and have no fear that financial aid or the perks that we have as students are being negatively affected by the recession. However, in order to keep that tradition alive and well for future generations of students, we need to start thinking of the major donors not as distant insurers of the University, but as people we should aspire to be like.
Kerry Brodie is a Near Eastern studies major from Potomac, Md. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.