As the college admissions scandal has played out over the past week, we’ve heard a refrain that hits close to home: that many other students have been admitted to elite universities through the “back door” of their parent’s philanthropy. Like many of you, I was first dismayed, then angry, and now sad.
It’s clear that higher education is facing a challenging conversation that will unfold at the highest levels – a conversation about how our educational institutions often reward privilege while at the same time providing the primary engine for social and scientific advancement.
But it’s also clear that this conversation will happen far beyond the individual advancement professionals who work day in and day out to support that latter, loftier, critical vision.
And it’s you who I want to address this to: the advancement professionals who will now face increased scrutiny of your cause, your motivations, and your professionalism. We know the good we do in partnership with our donors – the vast majority of whom are motivated by their passion to impact a cause – and now more than ever, we need to be vocal about that good.
We see first-generation college students on scholarships funded by donors who care deeply about access and social mobility. Life-saving research into the public health issues of our time made possible by donors who want to see fewer suffer from those crises. And outside of higher education, we see our organizations provide health care to low-income populations, save homeless animals, support families with critical childhood illness, and so much more – all because donors care deeply.
Our work has often been misunderstood. Too few people do not comprehend the skills, thoughtfulness, and passion on our part that fuels it. I worry that now, this misunderstanding will deepen.
Which is why I offer this: we are doing honorable work every day that makes the incredible possible and encourages individuals’ most generous instincts. And we must stand proud in that. Rather than allowing this scandal to taint that work, we must continue to educate about the power of philanthropy, talk loudly about the transformative impact that giving has, and speak proudly of how philanthropy brings about incredible change, innovation, and inspiration.