Disappointing donations: Why you shouldn’t donate to the College

The next time your class agent asks if you’d like to make a “fun” donation of $20.17 to celebrate your impending graduation, take the time to consider if that $20.17 could be best served elsewhere. A donation of $20.17 to the Against Malaria Foundation, for example, would provide at least 7 mosquito nets, protecting two people from Malaria exposure for three to four years. A donation of $20.17 to the Williams Alumni Fund, besides being a cute symbolic gesture, would pay for about .003% of the marble now scattered around Sawyer-Stetson Quad, by comparison. It doesn’t take a meeting with the Effective Altruism @ Williams club to see that more good would be done with your donation to combat malaria.

Of course, not all donations to the College go to frivolous causes like marble slabs, and there may well be a place for donating to an institution like Williams, even if it’s not the most effective or efficient way to help the world. However, the Development Office has done too little to allay concerns, even declining an invitation to debate the question of “Should you donate to Williams?” with Effective Altruism @ Williams. Nevertheless, the College continues to shamelessly implore students, who have not even had the chance to make any money with their college degrees, to donate. They receive email subjects such as “The Alumni Fund needs YOU!” or “Give to Williams!,” sometimes even trying to capitalize on our relationships with staff and faculty by suggesting we donate in honor of them as a show of appreciation.

Fortunately, the Alumni Fund offers the option to designate your donation to one of eight categories. Leaving aside the fact that the Alumni Fund likely has more than enough undesignated funds to allocate its money however it wishes, some of these designations, like financial aid, seem like causes worthy of philanthropy. However, even the College’s allocation of financial aid funds seems disappointing after a closer look.

Following the lead of Amherst in 2007, the College, with an endowment of less than $1.9 billion, introduced a “no loan policy,” which committed the school to meeting the full financial need of all students with grants rather than loans. Former President Morty Schapiro explained that “this move […] is based on our growing sense that loans, even small ones, affect a range of student decisions, from which colleges they consider attending to which post-college careers they pursue.” In the wake of the financial crisis, with a shrunken endowment, the College announced the reinstatement of loans into financial aid packages to cut costs in 2010. Meanwhile, colleges like Bowdoin with significantly smaller endowments per student retained their commitments to the no-loan policy.

That the school chose this area to make their cuts should be warning enough, but what is truly disheartening is that seven years removed from the depths of the financial crisis with a larger than ever endowment of at least $2.3 billion, the College has made no moves to reinstate the no-loan policy. Meanwhile, it has found the funds in recent years to begin several large-scale construction projects. In the realm of financial aid, it has instead hired a dean to oversee the Offices of Financial Aid and Admission. By all appearances, the history of the no-loan policy at the College is rather straightforward: the College introduced the no-loan policy to compete with peer institutions, ditched it when it prohibited it from spending on areas it cares about more than allowing students from lower incomes the freedom to pursue post-graduate options without debt and then, after finding its prestige relatively unaffected by the whole ordeal, never looked back.

As can be seen in the example of the no-loan policy, the school’s resource allocation seems to fall short of its rhetoric. And, as we’ve seen by the debate surrounding the Board of Trustees in recent years, there is a frightening lack of transparency and accountability in the way that the school conducts its financial business. With all of this in mind, the College has done very little to show that it is deserving of philanthropy and that it intends to use the donations it receives in a manner beneficial to either its students or society as a whole. Yet the College continues to ask its current students for donations. And why wouldn’t it? As an institution that has shown itself to be most reactive to financial pressures, a strategy that continues to garner donations from students and alumni year after year is a strategy that doesn’t need changing.

The issue of donating to the College is then twofold. If you truly care about using philanthropy to make a positive impact on the world, then donating to an institution that might use your donation to buy another set of marble slabs is depriving worthy organizations like the Against Malaria Foundation of that donation. Even if all you care about impacting is the College, donating to it, in spite of its apparent disregard for its stated principles and priorities, merely rewards an administration growing further out of touch with its values and its students.

Derrick Bonafilia ’17 is a computer science major from Silverdale, Wash. He lives in Susie Hopkins.

  • Excellent and thought provoking article. Students who care about free speech on Williams College and the protection of conservative students and scholars might donate their $20.17 to FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. See, https://www.thefire.org/

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  • allison orsi

    Thank you! Well written and so true. Here is another reason not to donate to Williams: your $20.17 might go to Exxon. Williams has not divested their endowment of fossil fuels…. sign the petition to not give until they divest: http://www.williamsendowment.org/