When I was a senior at an obnoxiously elite private school in Cambridge, Mass., I was the equally obnoxious student who was the only person in my class who refused to contribute to the senior class gift. I thought I was “making a point.” I’m all for charitable giving, but wasn’t that money better spent feeding starving children in Africa? I felt like I would be contributing to the opportunity gap in this country by allowing rich kids already receiving a world-class education to receive an even more world-class education. So I stubbornly refused to donate (my parents’) money and my school couldn’t advertise its 100 percent participation rate that year.
But I am writing now to tell you why you should donate to Union and why I was a naïve high schooler. I began fundraising for Union when I was a senior and have continued to do so as an alumna. I didn’t wake up one day and decide that I no longer cared about starving children in Africa, but over the course of my four years at Union—and even more so in the three years since I graduated—I have come to understand the value of contributing to Union.
I will start out with a selfish argument. For better or for worse, college rankings matter. It’s easy to get on a soapbox and denounce the flawed methodology of U.S. News and World Reports’ rankings as superficial and counterproductive. But a school’s reputation does matter when you’re applying to graduate school or for a job. As Union students and alumni, it’s in our best interest to work to increase Union’s ranking. And alumni giving participation (at any dollar amount) is factored into those rankings. It’s an investment in yourself.
Another selfish reason to support Union, or any not-for-profit, before I move on to more altruistic reasons: tax deductions. I didn’t fully understand the benefit of this while I was a student, or even my first year or two out of college. But once you start making a real salary, it can make a huge difference.
Understanding the importance of charitable giving is essentially a prerequisite for those of us who work at nonprofit organizations. Granted, the large 501(c)(4) I work for is hardly a mom-and-pop food bank, and my job has nothing to do with fundraising. But contributing to an organization that you have a personal connection to is incredibly rewarding. As a student, I can’t count all the times I was frustrated at the lack of funding at Union for something I cared about (well, actually I can count because I kept a list to share with the administration should they ever give me the time of day). The alumni office won’t be happy that I’m advocating this, but I’m a big proponent of earmarking at least part of your donation to a club, academic department, Greek organization, or sports team that you were involved with and have a vested interest in. When I was a senior, I created a senior class gift for Hillel and got every senior involved with Hillel to donate. Since then, I’ve organized a gift from the same group of students for the past three years with almost 100 percent participation. Giving to and raising money for a specific organization that was a major part of our experience at Union is rewarding and tangible.
I am especially frustrated with the argument many of my peers make that they are not obligated to donate to Union because they’ve already paid tuition. Yes, Union’s tuition is ridiculously—and honestly, almost laughably—expensive. But our education was subsidized by those who came before us and chose to give back. The actual cost of a Union education is closer to $80,000 a year—that extra $20,000 or so came from somewhere. And for those who make this argument, why not allocate your donation to financial aid so that others can have the same opportunity you were afforded?
Those of you who knew me when I was a student are likely to remember that I was always at odds with the administration over one thing or another. At times, I was torn about continuing my involvement with Union because of the direction the administration was taking the school and how I was treated by senior members of it. I still have some of these concerns to a certain extent. I had trouble working with the outgoing vice president for college relations, who I felt was disingenuous and not a true partner. But I am looking forward to working with Interim Director Frank Messa, who seems to share my vision for Union. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned since leaving Union’s bubble and entering the real world—again, for better or for worse—if you want to be a decision-maker and influence the process, you have to give them a reason to let you.
My message to seniors is this: donate to Union this year, and do it again next year when a $5 donation to Union won’t get you a drink ticket at the Union Inn during senior week. Statistics show that those who start giving to charitable organizations early on in their adult lives are much more likely to continue doing so over the course of their lives. Next year, maybe you’ll even decide to volunteer for your class and call classmates you haven’t spoken to since sophomore year, awkwardly pretend to care about their lives for five minutes, and then casually mention that you’re calling to ask them to donate to Union. It’s surprisingly rewarding.
Abigail Cable Class of 2010