It is so interesting how a sentence or two in an article has the power to open the floodgates of reader comments. That’s what happened after my article Charitable Giving at Work: Why Pressuring Employees Can Backfire ran in June.
“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. And these are not inexpensive trips. 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 out 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 of showing appreciation?”
Yes, I have an idea.
Two possible reasons for the lack of thanks
Several callers offered two possible explanations for this absence of any sense of appreciation by the recipients of these grants and scholarships:
- A sense of entitlement.
- A well-intentioned but poorly thought-out effort to eliminate bias or discrimination in the selection process.
“Trudy,” an advancement officer at an East Coast college, explained, “Years ago, donors would meet with applicants, discuss the scholarship, the student’s desires, talk about you name it — 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. Many schools do not require the recipient to write a thank-you letter. So that important connection — which had existed for decades — was frustrated. It is so sad and deprives donors the joy of seeing their money put to good use.”
Here are some ways to get back on track
The people I spoke with from both universities and charities offered these suggestions as ways to develop good feelings for both donors and recipients.
Host a meet-and-greet for students and donors. 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 can discuss their scholarships or charity, share the reasons they created the grants and describe the positive impact on recipients.
Representation at meetings. It is important to always have a faculty member or someone from the school’s administration present in any meeting between a donor and applicant. Consider recording the session, upon clearance by your organization’s legal office. This could be extremely important if someone complains of being a victim of discrimination or bias.
Require a thank-you letter. Where a scholarship has been awarded but not yet paid, require conditional 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 could make clear that funding could be pulled if the student doesn’t write that letter in a timely manner. The student should provide proof — a copy of the letter — which will be kept in the student’s file.
Explain letter-writing basics. 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.
Teach the art of appreciation. Many university students may not have been taught the art of appreciation at home, and if they are from other countries, different concepts of etiquette might be an issue. Therefore, especially for business majors, host a seminar on what is expected of students in general, including the art of socializing, how to be a good host and other skills that will be of tremendous benefit once they leave the nest, i.e., your school.
The implementation of any of these suggestions could help college students better understand why it’s important, and even the polite thing to do, to acknowledge anyone who lends them a helping hand.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.
After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."
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