Things To Act
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
The Morality Of "Matching" Donations
And once again it's time for BYU's Choose to Give campaign, in which the administration and a shocking number of student volunteers team up to browbeat everyone into ponying up a few bucks for the Cause, on the theory that small donations now will yield to endowed-chair/new building-sized donations from some of those who leverage their lucrative BYU degrees into multimillion-dollar fortunes down the line (which would have the added benefit of saving said students' souls, given gospel teachings about rich men getting into heaven--it's practically the duty of the university to rectify the situation should anyone escape with the possibility of amassing damning quantities of wealth). While the whole thing has an air of good fun, ranging from controversies over how many student donations go to buy the annoying flashing buttons worn by the browbeaters (official line: "none," assuming you haven't heard of fungibility) to typical LDS hangups about statistical achievement ('we must get students to make token donations so our U.S. News ranking will improve"), the ongoing issue which troubles me about this circus is the practice of 'matching' student donations 5:1.

The line is deceptively simple--'if you give $1, it becomes $6,' through the magic of Free Lunches and Wealthy Alumni. My problem with that is my $1 doesn't actually multiply like rabbits. What happens is that some Wealthy Donor is essentially telling me, "I've got this wad of cash that I'd like to give the BYU, but I won't unless you do first." To which I say, "mind your own business," because I tend to think that whatever Credit in Heaven I get for my good deeds should be independent of the manipulation/blackmailing of others. If they want to get Credit in Heaven for giving money to the BYU, my donation will have nothing to do with their decisions--they can 'choose to give' as much as they want, just as I can. So the whole matching donation thing strikes me as somewhat unethical, or at least a gray area. But then, I'm widely known to by cynical, apparently for good cause given the first paragraph of this post. For the record, I think donating to the BYU is a Good Thing (though perhaps not quite as Good as donating to the PEF). It just bugs me when it's dressed up as anything beyond simple philanthropy.

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