Finding the balance: how to improve Vanderbilt fundraising


Todd Polk

We’ve all seen it. Every day outside of Rand, students sit on the wall, their white fold-out tables in front of them with their pamphlets resting in stacks. Their goal: to fundraise. Whether it is for hurricane relief or to build up a budget, many organizations would be incomplete without a fundraising component. With plenty of options to choose from, however, it will take more than a pretty poster and puppy-dog eyes to succeed. Do Vanderbilt student organizations know what fundraising success looks like? Maybe not.

There are two types of fundraising failures on campus. The first is when events distance those who give from the cause they’re supporting. The second is when the organization mishandles their cause, driving away financial success.

raising money, although helpful, is not enough.

To understand the first problem, let’s look at philanthropy within campus Greek Life. Fraternities and sororities host sports tournaments to spread awareness and raise money. Although these organizations should be congratulated for their attempts to give back, their sports tournaments end up distracting their audience from the problems at hand. Instead of educating about social issues and generating long-term interest in a cause, the organizations prioritize the entertainment value of sports and short-term engagement for the best results.

If the goal is to simply raise money for a cause, then the fundraising was a success. But raising money, although helpful, is not enough. The donation money usually goes to organizations that are understaffed, undersupplied, and are in desperate need of innovative solutions that sometimes need to come from outside. In addition to fundraising, Greek Houses often invest manpower and effort into the causes they fight for. Other groups should replicate this. They should use their brand recognition to mobilize the masses, not try to fill the ever-draining reserves of the Red Cross or Goodwill.

Smaller organizations tend to suffer from the opposite problem of insufficient fundraising power. Organizations such as cultural clubs and service groups do not have the resources of Greek Life, VSG and other campus giants. To make up for their size, they sink resources into educating students about their causes, relying on members’ social and interpersonal skills and their benefactors’ innate generosity. The result is fewer donations and a smaller pool of more passionate supporters: limited short-term gains in favor of more certain profits down the line.

While it is noble to educate and connect with individual benefactors, it comes at a price. The aid groups mentioned earlier, the ones that need innovative solutions and manpower, also need to pay the bills. They need funding and supplies. The purely educational route might get the manpower, but without money and resources, that manpower cannot be used.

Organizations need to balance the widespread appeal of entertaining fund drives with the nitty-gritty work of education on the problems. The events themselves don’t need to be educational and entertaining in equal measure. Cooperation is key to success. Blending the resources of the bigger organizations with the passion of the smaller ones may be the answer. The possibilities are endless. Greek cook-outs paired with brainstorming sessions. VSG dinners with presentations about poverty reduction. An Original Cast production featuring refugee actors that educate viewers about the refugee experience in Nashville.

To fundraise well, follow the old Greek maxim: everything in moderation.

Todd Polk is a sophomore in Peabody College. He can be reached at [email protected]