2-12-2010 Donations to Duke tumble during fiscal crisis

Fact Checker here.

Loyal readers, I wish this were TV and you could see me shaking my head. Donations are UP!!!! Yippee. But admnistrators won't tell us how much money is involved.

Why in hell can't we find out? What is the reason?

These people make a secret out of EVERYTHING, treating stakeholders in Duke as if they were Al Qaeda trying to subvert the place.

Next point: The word donation is very very tricky. For example for many years, if a pharmaceutical company -- a private for-profit corporation -- paid Duke to test a new drug -- and our Health System is one of the largest testers in the world -- we counted that as a donation. I'd count it as a contract that we had to do work for.

We cleaned up that weird accounting, and thus the deception meter is at only 99 percent now.

The fund-raisers cite the all-time record high of $385.7 million in 2007-08. Last year this fell 22 percent. Those statistics are compiled using methodology favored by fund-raisers with a vested interest in looking good.

My next witness is Mr. Tallman Trask, good morning sir. Can we please see what you wrote in your annual financial report?

Yes sir, you are executive vice president for finance. Can we squint please at the small print where you talk about Generally Accepted Accounting Standards, GAAS, the way you compile everything in your annual financial report except fund-raising numbers.

On the basis of GAAS, "Duke recorded $136.9 million in contribution revenue, including pledges... representing a 61 percent decrease" from the prior year.

Mr. Trask, that is an accurate number, correct?

"Yes, Fact Checker, gifts off 61 percent."

The Chronicle has printed the $136.9 million statistic before, prompting an October 8, 2009 letter from Schoenfeld that is the damndest document in the history of Allen Building:

"The University's financial statement is not the best source for information about private donations."

Correct Mr. Schoenfeld. Fact Checker is!!!! ✔✔✔✔✔

Next we come to the statistic that Duke enjoys contributions from around 100,000 people. Aside from the heavy hit during the height of the lacrosse hoax, this is true.

But it's also true that since we first hit 100,000, we have graduated five classes with four thousand new alumni each, counting both undergrads and graduates. That's 20,000 new potential donors right there, not counting their parents whom we also chase, while the number of donors has not budged. There were an estimated 3500 alumni who we lost during this period, either because they moved or passed away.

That's as much concern to me, as the raw number 100,000 pleases me. I am sorry our professional fundraisers are so dismissive of this warning signal.

The pros have also swept under the rug other warning signals: for example the Annual Fund that barely budged, that failed to meet its low-balled targets, that failed to keep pace with inflation, much less keep pace with the university's budget that explodes at a greater rate than inflation. All this, my loyal readers, was well before the financial meltdown.

The Chronicle sources today are the PR man for fund-raising and the ubiquitous Schoenfeld, spinners. They -- above all other people -- should be able to count the number of news releases with major gifts year to year. Before the meltdown, the number was shrinking, shrinking. And the greatest shrinkage came among members of the Board of Trustees and members of the Duke family. Before the meltdown that is blamed for the fall-off.

Final observations: the Chronicle should not use PR people who filter and configure the news as sources. Why not our VP for fund-raising Shepard himself?

I also note that one source of today's article is the executive director for PR in the fund-raising area. It was my understanding that as part of the fiscal crisis, we were going to trim these separate empires and bring everything under one roof. Not only in PR, but in other staff functions. To date, I am not aware that administrators have taken any step at all toward this reorganization. Then again, all species protect their own.

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