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Here is why I have not given to Seniors for The Penn Fund.

In all of the hoopla of senior events, T-shirts and “Penn Traditions,” we hardly ever hear good answers to two critical questions: Why should we give back to Penn? And why, if we do want to give, should we give to The Penn Fund specifically? While there are compelling answers to these questions, Penn’s failure to emphasize them makes it seem like this University — which has done so much to improve my mind — now intends for me to forgo its use.

Let’s tackle the fundamental question first. Why give to Penn? There are good answers and bad answers to this question, but it seems the Seniors for The Penn Fund effort is focused too much on the bad ones. You shouldn’t give just because, in the words of a Seniors for The Penn Fund Committee e-mail, “Penn … is awesome.” So, after all, is Mt. Rushmore. Yes, undergraduate financial aid is important, but just saying that it exists is hardly a compelling reason to give to it. Scholarship donors get to meet the students they support. Why does the senior class hear so little about the students whose educations they’re making possible?

Tell me exactly what brilliant undergraduate research my donation supported. Tell me about the College House that is now so much more pleasant thanks to that generous senior class. Tell me about the brilliant students who deserve a Penn education but can’t get it because they were born into a family without the money to make it there — but who will, if only I give.

But once we’ve gotten over this hurdle, we’re then confronted with the question of why we should give to The Penn Fund. The answer is not obvious, for The Penn Fund is a very curious fund, indeed. It has two interesting qualities: First, it is entirely at the discretion of the President and Provost (most of our other donations are locked to a particular purpose). And second, it is cash. That means if I give $100 to The Penn Fund today, The Penn Fund will then spend it by next year and that’s it. It is the ultimate fire-and-forget weapon in the arsenal of University development.

Why give a gift that will disappear in a year? Why give up the chance to send my money to the parts of this University that I care about most? There are good answers to these questions, as I learned when I talked to Damon Cates, the executive director of The Penn Fund. Noting that roughly $27 million was given last year to The Penn Fund, Damon emphasized that with the small average size of an annual donation (roughly $100 per person for recent grads), it doesn’t make sense to scatter it around dozens of different funds and centers. Moreover, if all of The Penn Fund’s gifts were invested (the other major destination for donations), then assuming we get a 4-percent return per year on the investment, what is $27 million available to spend today becomes only about $1 million available each year.

So The Penn Fund makes sense, but again, it shouldn’t take an interview with the Fund’s executive director to find these things out. This information should be front and center of The Penn Fund’s advocacy, because no smart donor — and Penn only has smart donors — should donate to The Penn Fund without it.

I cannot donate to Penn when the most publicized reasons to do so consist of empty rhetoric and getting free beer come Hey Day. Make me a case. Explain exactly what my donation is doing and what will change when I give. Respect the education you gave me. And then we can talk.

Alec Webley is a College senior from Melbourne, Australia. He is the former chairman of the Undergraduate Assembly. His e-mail address is Smart Alec appears on Thursdays.

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