On Giving Tuesday, spread the wealth, don’t concentrate it

Published 2:20 pm Friday, November 27, 2020

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Americans have been very generous on GivingTuesday. However, they often give money to where everyone else gives money, mostly because they may not know about other options to help. But with a little more research, you can spread the wealth, giving to those who need it just a little more.

In 2018, Americans gave away nearly a half-trillion dollars, according to Giving USA. But most of it went to 150 charities, even though there are more than 1.6 million nonprofits. 

It’s the same for schools. According to MarketWatch, 20 elite universities serve less than 2% of all students yet rake in about a third of the donations. They’ve got the organizational setup to grab more while making them bigger, which increases their funding operations. It’s a lot more like college football, where the Davids don’t stand a chance against the Goliaths.

But maybe you want a little more bang for your buck, so to speak. The Ivy League schools aren’t constructing enough buildings to have your name on it, and there are only so many endowed chairs. But what if you can give to one of those David schools? Seek out schools to help that are high need. For example, though I teach at a small private college, many of our students are Pell-eligible with a number of those classified as high need.  With all the spots at the large research 1 universities mostly taken by those who can afford to prepare for a spot at a cheaper university, they’re turning to the small schools hoping to take advantage of the small faculty-to-student ratio and undergraduate research opportunities.

Is it worth it? “Who is speaking at your college?” he asked.

So, I regaled him with tales of speakers who prosecuted terrorists, testified before Congress, overcame disabilities to win awards and won big legal judgments.

“How did you get them all to agree to speak at your school?” he said, clearly impressed.  

“They’re all graduates of our college,” I replied.

I let our students know from the beginning that they have a great opportunity to succeed—if they’ll take advantage of the opportunity. We find all kinds of ways of giving them a top experience on a budget. My students know to expect a Days Inn when we travel to a conference in Savannah or might stay at a youth hostel in Washington D.C. when they tour the Holocaust Memorial Museum and National Museum of African American History and Culture, and won’t get to travel abroad without the generous donations that make those trips possible. 

To help a small college not on the list that everyone gives to, you’d be a big fish in a small pond. But more than just the recognition, you’d get to see what keeps me where I am: watching students learn new skills, present scholarly material and perform on the stage, field or in the studio, and realizing that you played a part in that student’s development. It’s a moment worthy of a charming Christmas movie.