Concordia University needs to do damage control in order to assure that donors continue to give to the university in the wake of the dismissal of president Judith Woodsworth, says Shaun Lynch, a fundraising consultant and JMSB marketing professor.
“Donors like to give to stable organizations and when there is controversy and they’re not hearing formal statements, that can lead to concerns,” said Lynch. He stressed the importance of public image to any institution wishing to raise funds and spoke of the immediate need for damage control.
Many donors to the university, including alumni, parents, faculty and staff, have been voicing their reluctance to donate again after the December dismissal.
“After the story at Concordia broke, a friend of mine came up to me and said, “you’re a donor to Concordia, are you still going to give money to them?’ and your first instinct is “well gee, I better revisit this,'” said Derek Cassoff, an annual donor and graduate of Concordia’s journalism program.
Many donors feel the same way; some have lost their trust in the university, others fear their money is going to fund severance packages, and others still are reluctant to donate because they disagree with the way Concordia is managed.
Cassoff reiterated the demand from donors for openness and honesty from top-level management at Concordia. “I guess the one thing I’m looking for the most would be information. So I’d really like to see some transparency and I’d like to see a little bit more of an explanation in terms of why certain decisions were made and what was the reasoning behind them.”
When asked what could be done to uphold and maintain public image, Concordia’s head of media relations Chris Mota said she wasn’t in a position to answer.
While interim president Frederick Lowy and his team have scrambled to bring stability to the university since before he officially started the job on Feb. 2, a great number of donors have made their presence known online in the form of comments on related articles on news websites.
“I will not be donating another red cent to the university,” read one comment. “Time to stop donating to this out-of-touch, decadent university until they reform,” read another.
Fundraisers dismissed the claims in a Feb. 1 article in the Link that donations through the university’s call centre had dipped as “inaccuracies and distortions.” The letter to the newspaper said that the month’s “average gift actually increased.”
Donations represent a critical part of the university’s operating budget. Most go to specific areas such as financial aid and awards.
“People are feeling like their donation dollars are being used for severance packages or whatever. People need to understand, that’s not where their money is going, that if they’re designating their money for charitable uses in the university, it’s going to those charitable uses,” explained Lynch.
“The reality is that if I were to withhold my donations, who am I really penalizing? It’s the students, who wouldn’t get this money otherwise and who need it the most,” said Cassoff, confirming that he will continue to offer donations to Concordia.
Lynch said the university should, as a part of its damage control efforts, speak with donors and explain where their money goes.
“One of the mistakes that people make in fundraising, is that they spend too much time talking and not enough time listening to what the donors have to say.”