The Fact Checker scoop on alumni giving

✔✔ Good day, fellow Dukies. FC here. Probative. Provocative. Pro-Duke!

After reading this essay, please scroll down for a very important story from Bloomberg News about 13 US professors barred from entering China because they dared to express themselves. Plus the important Sunday update on the doctor who left Duke in July, now facing murder charges in Seattle. Please scroll down.

The Top Ten Myths of alumni giving

1) It's called the Annual Fund, but that's a misnomer. Surprisingly few people contribute year after year. The Brodhead Administration keeps tight control on these statistics, but we do have some snippets.

In the Class of 1963, as of its 45th reunion in 2008, only six people had contributed every year for 30 years or more. And of these, only two had possibly contributed as much as $1,000 annually; one of them is a member of the Duke family, Mary Trent Jones.

In the Class of 1968, as of its 40th reunion, only ten had contributed every year for more than 30 years; no more than five of them were down for at least $1,000 annually. Trustees like John Mack and Marguerite Weaver Kondracke had very irregular giving patterns; Judy Woodruff had given for at least ten consecutive years.

2) Now assume FC told Loyal Readers that the Annual Fund was once called the Alumni Loyalty Fund. Correct. And assume you heard alumni make the biggest contributions. False. By far the biggest contributions come from parents of currently enrolled students; with so many living in the wealthy suburbs of Dallas and Chicago, the suspicion has always been that this is how these people pay up when they buy their kids admission to Duke.

While Duke has admitted admissions are for sale, two years ago the Brodhead Administration stopped publishing in Duke Magazine the list of parent contributions to the Annual Fund. The PR department specifically rejected FC requests to post the lists on a website or provide a computer file.

During the past year, a Loyal Reader told us the list was on line, but it was promptly taken down. The Alumni Department did not respond to repeated Fact Checker requests to have access to the list.

More numbers. In a recent tally, there were 137,749 alums. Only 13,617 paid their dues for the year, and 151 signed up for expensive life-time memberships paid up front.

3) Alumni vote on setting the goals for the Annual Fund. False. The Alumni Department sets the goals -- and apparently low-balls them. Thus, year after year the Department can declare itself a success.

This reminds FC of the way Joseph Stalin used to run elections in the Soviet Union; the dictator was fond of saying that it did not matter who ran, so long as he counted the ballots.

4) Gifts for class reunions, held every five years, count toward the Annual Fund. Correct. And there is great generosity. False.

Once again, the Alumni Department did not respond to our repeated requests for information. The following statistics are posted for 2011 reunions, with the explanation that they are updated every two weeks. Thus, we assume they are final for the fiscal year that ended June 30th.

Only two of ten reunion classes went significantly over their dollar goals. The Class of 1981, celebrating its 30th reunion, had a goal of $3 million and wound up with $4.7 million. The Class of 1986, celebrating 25 years, went 20 percent over its goal of $2 million but drew only 525 of an anticipated 762 gifts.

Similarly, the 20th reunion of the Class of 1991 edged above its goal of $1.2 million, but drew only 418 and not the anticipated 534 gifts. The Class of 2001 came in on target for money, but drew only 395 of 450 anticipated gifts.

The worst dollar performer was the Class of 1966, which at $587,000 hit only 72 percent of its goal.

The Class of 1976 had a double bomb, missing both its low-balled goal of $1 million by ten percent, and its goal of 444 contributions by a similar amount. Remember, please that the goal of 444 represents less than half the total number of people in the class.

Loyal Readers, please do not think we point out these numbers to be negative. Rather, until this university gets honest in its discussion of itself, there will never be any improvement.

5) A significant number of alumni come to Reunion Weekends in April. Wrong. The Alumni Department stretches the count by including family members and friends. Thus, nearly 4,000 people came to the reunion, a far smaller percentage than was the case when reunions were held in conjunction with Homecoming in the fall.

6) The Annual Fund has had an increasing impact upon Duke. Wrong. The opposite is true.

The Annual Fund used to contribute a significantly larger percentage of Duke's annual budget.

And look at it another way: if you consider inflation, and consider the increased size of the graduating classes, the Annual Fund has actually lost ground.

7) All these numbers. All these numbers. They are very malleable. You bet.

Let's return to John Mack, a Trustee of the University. A football player at Duke, sidelined by injury, three years after graduation he joined Morgan Stanley on Wall Street as a municipal bond salesman. In 21 years he rose to the top, acquiring the name "Mack the Knife" for the way he slashed costs -- and disrupted thousands of careers. In 2006, he earned $41,399,010 -- so he could well afford the gift in the "$1 million plus" category he gave Duke 40 years after graduation.

But not a cent of it counted toward his class gift or the Annual Fund. The reason: Mack had been massaged by other development officers and their programs got the credit.

This opens a tug of war in the development office: the solicitors of major gifts want credit, the people running the Annual Fund want credit. It's very tempting if the Annual Fund is behind to shift money into its column, and voila, another successful year of meeting targets. Does that occur or is this only theoretically possible. The Brodhead Administration is hiding the cards.

Here's another example. Reunion gifts for the Class of 2003 were languishing. So the class agent put the squeeze on Nick Arison, scion of the family that started Carnival Cruise Lines and has since swallowed Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line, P&O Cruises, Ocean Village, AIDA, Costa Cruises and Iberocruceros. Nick has recently been in the news, becoming chief executive officer of the family's toy, the Miami Heat basketball team.

So Arison wrote a check, one dollar for every three that all the other members of his class had contributed.

Thus the Class of 2003 met the goal set for it by the Alumni Department, and Loyal Readers have an illustration of how statistics need careful analysis.

We point out also that the alumni giving totals come out so soon after the end of the fiscal year, they apparently are not audited. Why? Why? Questions we asked the Alumni Department and got no answer.

8) It's the same at other schools. False. The schools that Duke likes to snuggle with do far better. Princeton, for example, had 83 percent of the class celebrating its fifth anniversary contribute to its annual fund. Duke had 414 donors -- out of approximately 2,000 who received undergraduate degrees. 21 percent. Again, if the Alumni Department has other numbers, it should answer its damned e-mail.

That's the Annual Fund. An additional 74 donations were received outside the Annual Fund, toward what is called the "comprehensive goal."

In the most recent year that we have statistics for, four out of ten classes missed their dollar amounts for comprehensive goals.

9) The numbers are just as bad for the graduate and professional schools. Right, we recall former Law School Dean Pamela Gann saying repeatedly that Duke graduates had not picked up on the tradition of supporting their school to the same extent as graduates of other schools. FC is developing more on this: there are law firms that have literally taken more than 100 Duke graduates over the years -- and contributed squat.

In the 2008-09 academic year, the last available totals, only 61 graduates of professional and graduate schools went to Reunion Weekend; and 61 registered for Homecoming. Ouch

These numbers are better kept secret. There is no need for public discussion of the wobbly state of alumni giving. If you said right, you are reading the wrong blog. Have a good day.

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