Philanthropy – Why People Give

Fourth in a series on philanthropy in higher education

Philanthropy is essential to all universities, especially public regional research universities. Donor giving demonstrates commitment and allows the joining of hands with institutional leaders, faculty, staff and students to pursue ideas, goals and aspirations they believe are important. Giving benefits students and contributing to such ideas in the form of empathy and compatriotism lead to the success of common goals for the individual and the institutional mission. In return, this can be seen as mutually supportive and provides the opportunity to rally together for success. In the case of public institutions, philanthropy supports compliments and leverages taxpayers’ support.

People give for diverse reasons. Reasons such as, emotion, altruism, impact, impression, alignment of aspirations, wanting to be part of something larger than self and trust. No matter a donor’s motivation for giving, they must be asked. There are, unfortunately, reasons people don’t give. Anyone who follows West Texas A&M University knows we take student debt seriously. College debt is a reason people do not give. Many universities quietly and agreeably help students accumulate debt. When the phone call comes from an institution asking for support, many will be sneered at or go unanswered. We encourage people not to borrow or borrow reasonably by calculating debt into “the cost of living.” Education is a good investment.

Over borrowing for a degree is a “thorn in the flesh” from institutionalized disingenuousness. Why talk about student debt in an article about philanthropy? Philanthropy starts when a student applies to the institution. Public universities must be good stewards even when trying to make ends meet within a financial environment pressed thinly.

Other reasons people give:

Emotion—Joy, trust and the fear of missing out are a few powerful and emotional reasons for giving. Donors feel the institution helped them for the better. Lifelong friendships, a realization of the power of “alma mater” (loving mother) and support in the development of self-invoking are emotional responses. Emotional motivations are difficult to measure, but deep feelings are powerful and can attach a graduate to the institution for a lifetime. Emotion is the why, how much is determined differently.

Altruism—People who have benefited from the impact of higher education feel a sense of obligation to help others get the same opportunity. In a very real sense, people believe that giving is “the right thing to do.”

Impact and impression—Ego is safest accompanied by its countervailing cousin, humility. Together, they are a powerful force in giving. Donor recognition is essential to philanthropy. The naming of scholarships, professorships, buildings, places on the campus and programs may satisfy a legitimate sense of ego and purpose for the donor. But more importantly, donor recognition is a beacon to others exemplifying a donor’s belief in the organization, thus, inspiring others to follow. Legitimate appreciation for recognition demonstrates strength in a university.

Alignment with aspirations in life—Donors are attracted to parallel pursuits. Alignment happens when tithing is in a house of worship, supporting a nonprofit, treating the sick, and a shared geographic or economic interest with regional enterprises such as agriculture or education in the case of WT.

They want to be a part of something larger than self—Compatriotism, belonging to a larger group of people with like aspirations, is central to all giving matters. No one wants to be alone. In some ways, such aspiration drives every reason for giving: the pursuit of a shared vision.

Trust—Individuals will not give to an organization they don’t trust. Trust is earned, not given. Trust develops from actions. Donors often recognize the power of trust and it is coupled with success. Graduation with a degree of value is predicated on trust. A university diploma is like a stock certificate, valued by trust: no trust, no value, no giving.

They have been asked—The University has appropriate pride of accomplishment. At WT, we are unapologetic and proud of our work for student benefit, with no need to be ashamed. Without reservation, we believe in the value and importance of the educational experience. Therefore, we are not timid about asking prospects to consider being part of the exceptional educational experience and the important research we offer and conduct.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at

Todd W. Rasberry, Ph.D. is Vice President for Philanthropy and External Relations, and Executive Director of the WTAMU Foundation.



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