July 21, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver

Dennis BeaverIt is so interesting how a sentence or two in an article has the power to open the flood gates of reader comments. And that’s what happened after “Why pressuring employees (with regard to charitable giving) can backfire” ran June 27.

“Your story looked at certain approaches management should avoid as a way to encourage charity by its employees, and briefly touched on something that has bothered those of us who work with charities in the scholarship and foundation offices of universities across the country,” wrote “Earl.”

“For the past several years, donors – the people who make a college education possible for hundreds of thousands of young people – aren’t hearing two of the most important words in any language: Thank you!

“We have an academic concentration on international aid – equipping students with the tools to work in poor countries, helping them improve their agricultural practices. Toward that end, both private and corporate donors send students overseas for a real hands-on experience.

“You would be surprised at the phone calls I’ve received from donors – months after the students returned – asking ‘when are they going?’ So, I’ve asked our students, ‘Did you send a thank you card or letter to the donor?’”

And, you know the answer I get that wants to make me pull my hair?

“Oh, were we supposed to? Nobody ever told us.”

How Were the Croissants?

In May, a group of 10 West Coast university students returned from a faculty-led, two-week “Intensive French” trip to Paris, paid for by a financial services company based in their city. “All were taking French and none had ever been out of California,” emailed “UA.”

“We heard that they had a great time, but not one called our office to say thanks or just come over and share their experiences. To say that we are disappointed is an understatement. Mr. Beaver, do you have any idea what has happened to the desire for showing appreciation?”

Yes, I have an idea.

Just give us the Money

Several callers offered two possible explanations for this absence of any sense of appreciation by the recipients of these grants and scholarships:

(1) A sense of entitlement, and;

(2) A poorly thought out effort to eliminate bias or discrimination in the selection process.

“Trudy,” an advancement officer at an East Coast college, explained:

“Historically, donors would meet with applicants, discuss the scholarship, talk about everything in the world and especially the importance of generosity. But selection of the recipient was always made by faculty – that is an IRS requirement if a donor seeks a charitable tax deduction.

“Then, someone objected to a donor even as much as meeting applicants. It was, ‘Just give us the money.’ So students had no contact with donors and typically none afterwards. So that important connection – which had always existed – was frustrated. It is so sad, and deprives donors the joy of seeing their money put to good use.”

Suggested Ways of Getting Back on Track

The people I spoke with from both universities and charities offered these suggestions as a way to develop good feelings for both donors and recipients.

(1) Often students and beneficiaries of charitable contributions do not realize that the money comes from real people instead of the government. So, where possible, invite donors and applicants to something like a town hall meeting where donors discuss their scholarships, or charity, the reasons they created the grant, and describe the positive impact on recipients.

(2) Always have a faculty member or someone from the school’s administration present.

Recording or videotaping of the session only upon clearance by your organization’s legal office – and this could be extremely important if someone complains of being a victim of discrimination or bias.

(3) Where a scholarship has been awarded but not yet paid, condition receipt of the funds on the student writing a thank you letter. Where the scholarship is on a yearly, self-renewing basis, the office that processes grants and scholarships must make clear that funding will be pulled unless the student writes that letter in a timely manner, providing proof – a copy of their letter – which will be kept in the student’s file.

(4) Hold a “letter writing” seminar open to all students and go over the elements of a sincere letter of appreciation. Expect a few moans and groans from students who feel they know it all. Be prepared to cite an example of one of your donors who was so touched by a student’s letter of appreciation that the amount of the scholarship was increased – for that student.

(5) Realize that many university students are not taught manners at home, and if they are from foreign countries, very different concepts of etiquette might be an issue.

Therefore, especially for business majors, host a seminar in what is expected of them – the art of socializing, how to be a good host, skills that will be of tremendous benefit once they leave the nest i.e., your school.

(6) This will help them navigate the real world and better understand why showing appreciation to someone who has given you a helping hand is so important.