Donations Plummet with University Crisis

Donors Fall by up to 80 per cent: Employees

After Concordia’s Board of Governors dismissed President Judith Woodsworth on Dec. 22, the student callers at the Alumni Relations office found unwelcoming ears and little enthusiasm as they solicited donations.

According to student callers contacted by The Link, the number of donors fell by up to 80 per cent in the early weeks of January and donations fell to $50 on some days—an average day before the dismissal could see callers bring in several thousand dollars.
While university spokesperson Chris Mota told The Link that no official figures are available, students in the office have noted that procedures were changed to try to stem the fall in donations.

“While we used to contact alumni regardless of their faculty, we now give preferential treatment to alumni who are in our current faculty,” said one caller who asked for anonymity due to fears of losing their job. “They expect that if donors can relate with us, they will give more.”

Despite the changes, Mota warned that it was still too soon to comment on the potential impact of the dismissal.

“The Alumni Office is still processing 2010 gifts, and early January is generally fairly quiet in terms of donations, so we won’t have any meaningful comparisons for some time.”

As one of the few ways that Concordia communicates with its alumni, the callers complained that the university’s reaction to the firing was a “sugarcoating” of the truth.

Briefed by Mota during the second week of the semester, callers were instructed to tell inquiring alumni that the university’s Board of Governors had full confidence in the university’s senior administration.
Despite training that reinforced the university’s official position—that Woodsworth resigned for personal reasons and that her contract details were confidential—callers said that few of the alumni had questions about the dismissal.

“They seemed really well informed. Most alumni just said, ‘You just wasted $700,000 on a leaving president, I don’t feel like donating to you now.’ It seemed to me like the focus was on the severance pay,” said another caller.

Alumni objected to the outgoing president’s severance package of $703,500 after having completed only half of her four-year contract—many referred to it as a golden parachute.

“I briefed them weeks ago to give them the lay of the land so that if they were asked questions by the alumni, they had the correct information,” said Mota.

After Mota’s briefing, new developments at the university were not added to the callers’ information sheets. When they asked, callers said they were told not to bring up new information.

“I asked, could we bring up the vote at Senate calling for the chair of Board to resign? What about the letter from faculty calling for an investigation of the Board? Or the votes of non-confidence from all the unions? Or the student union’s stance that some Board members should go? I wasn’t encouraged to bring it up,” said a caller. “I had to ask, who are we working for, the university or the Board of Governors?”

The actions of the Board led to a split in the university, with students, faculty and staff rallying together against the unilateral decision to dismiss Woodsworth, while only Alumni Relations came out in support of the Board’s actions.

According to Mota, callers were encouraged to deal with developments within the university, but only when they were prompted on specific issues.

“If I were training callers for fundraising, I would suggest that none of that were brought up; however I would suggest that they respond appropriately when questions are raised,” said Mota. “It is legitimate to respond to appropriate questions when you receive them.”

Despite the fall in donations, the callers maintained that they were staying positive about the developments at the university.

“The most important part of our work is to be a listening student on the other line and [to emphasize] that Concordia students, as much as ever, need donor support for various projects around the school, from libraries to bursaries,” said one of the callers.

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 21, published February 1, 2011.

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