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|NUMBER 156||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||JANUARY 1999|
As public awareness and concern grow about the trends in higher education toward bizarre and academically worthless programs and courses, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has released The Intelligent Donor's Guide. It promises to help philanthropists give more wisely, regardless of the amount of the gift.
The Guide is a primer for people who want their gifts to be used to advance academic excellence rather than the latest "politically correct" program or activity. It outlines a 15-step program to help donors identify their goals for their gifts, direct the gifts by selecting the best programs to support, and follow through to make sure the funds are used in the manner specified. The authors say that most donors give "the easy way" by contributing to annual funds or capital campaigns, or by giving to building funds and projects. They note that targeting funds in this way merely frees up general funds which often pay for programs that undermine the donor's educational values.
The Guide cautions donors to beware of "fungibility," or the moving of funds from one project or activity to another. They advise donors to state their instructions for their gifts in writing in no uncertain terms, noting that even restricted gifts are often made on "little more than a smile and a handshake." They say colleges give donors romantic descriptions of what their gifts will achieve, only to have them find out later that something quite different was done with their money. For example, suppose a donor gives to a college because of its outstanding political science department. If the donor simply earmarks the gift for that department, the dean could subtract the amount of the gift from the department's total allocation. To circumvent that possibility, say the authors, donors should enlist the faculty of the preferred department to be their watchdog, or fund a new course or lecture series, in addition to putting their wishes in writing.