Voices in the Wilderness

A forum for discussion of all things Dartmouth.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Notes on the Numbers

A first glance at the chart we posted below about alumni participation rates in the Dartmouth College Fund is fairly straight forward- the rates are declining generally, with some localized upticks. As a disclaimer, we do not claim to be experts in statistics and our work is unscientific. However, the raw data is straight forward and very descriptive.

First, it is unfortunate that we don't have data from before 1980. Though we somewhat doubt that those numbers don't exist, it's likely that the task of accumulating and presenting them in the database would be a difficult task. Still, though, if they do exist, let it be said here first that the college should release that data. Second, alumni participation rates are, like any statistic, subject to manipulation and problems of definition. The data set includes a number of "runs" where for at least four years in a row, the rate was exactly 70%- a possible but unlikely scenario. Third, the energy expended in general outreach greatly affects giving rates. For example, the college currently is campaigning (almost desperately) to get its participation rates back up. On its own website, it advertises that the participation goal is 50%. In other words, the college is hoping that 50% of its alums still care enough about it to send in as little as $1. Twenty years ago, Dartmouth averaged 65% steadily, with a far less robust fundraising apparatus.

Also notable in the data (at least to our eyes) is that general economic effect is muted. The late 1990's saw only a minimal rise, and the drop off after was, instead of precipitous like the economy, more in line with the general slow downward trend. All in all, we don't know enough about this data to say that our observations reflect the true nature of the fundraising beast, and anyone with a better handle on the mechanics here is welcomed and encouraged to get in touch with us. But it is interesting food for thought.

One observation we would make is that Freedman was an unmitigated disaster from a fundraising standpoint. Though alumni giving rates have somewhat suffered at all institutions (the reason for which is likely similar to the one at Dartmouth), Freedman presided over a decline of 10% nominally, or 15% of the total, and was unable in 11 years to stem the tide at all, despite being president during a time of record economic growth. Jim Wright may or may not have inherited an empire in decline, and we would argue that it is too soon yet to say definitively one way or the other. However, the general trend is not encouraging, especially in the years since his enormously unpopular Student Life Initiative.

Though we don't question the intent of every administrator to improve Dartmouth, the question every alum should ask themselves is, can Dartmouth afford to keep people who allowed this trend?