An alleged child-rapist and an admitted child-rapist are in the news again. Both news stories involve large sums of money.
The first news item concerns former Penn State Football Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky and the University’s year-end fundraising efforts. (You can read my first blog post about Sandusky and Penn State: “Tragic Lessons of the Penn State Fiasco.”) While I hope you never have to cope with such a heinous crisis in your professional life, you will, unfortunately, be likely to find yourself dealing with at least one major challenge during your career. The Penn State situation is instructive.
The second news item concerns famed movie director Roman Polanski and his recently released film Carnage. At the end of this post, I’ll very briefly discuss the idea of not enriching this admitted child rapist through the purchase of a movie ticket.
On November 5, 2011, in the midst of the prime year-end fundraising season, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly and State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan announced the results of a grand jury investigation that led to Sandusky being charged with sexually abusing eight boys. Two Penn State officials were also charged with related crimes though neither was directly involved in the abuse. A total of four Penn State officials either resigned or were fired within days of the release of the grand jury report including living legend, Coach Joe Paterno.
Penn State has been working to deal with the various challenges resulting from the Sandusky mess. The development staff has had the monumental task of having to continue to raise money for Pennsylvania’s flagship public university.
An Associated Press report has revealed, “‘The overwhelming majority of [Penn State’s] leading donors have made public statements affirming their faith in the University and its future,’ according to the University’s talking points. The document named a couple who gave $88 million to launch an NCAA ice hockey program, and another who endowed the position of head football coach. Both the number of donors and number of gifts to Penn State increased in November, compared with the same month a year earlier. Total donations to Penn State were $3.1 million in November, compared to $1.1 million in November 2010, according to the University. Another positive sign for Penn State was [December’s] announcement of a $10 million gift from an anonymous donor to bridge engineering research projects with other fields of study.”
A year-end annual fund appeal provides some insight into how the development staff is handling the fundraising challenge. Garvin Maffett, EdD, Executive Consultant at INJOY and a Penn State alumnus, received an annual fund email appeal in December from the University. He posted the appeal on LinkedIn at the CFRE International Network Group. If you’re a CFRE and would like to see the reaction the posting received, go to LinkedIn and subscribe to the Group. The responses have been generally constructive and supportive.
Here is the Penn State appeal from Dec. 19 as posted by Maffett:
The recent allegations against former and current Penn State employees have shaken our community to its core. But the University’s central mission to educate the leaders of tomorrow is as important now as ever before. We are 96,000 students, 46,000 employees, and more than half a million alumni. We are a university committed to providing educational opportunities and improving the lives of our students and communities. We are Penn State.
The University, led by our newly appointed president, Rodney A. Erickson, is working to repair the trust of the Penn State community and the nation. We are pursuing an aggressive, independent investigation of the allegations and a reevaluation of the University’s protocols and procedures, and have promised to share the results with the public. In addition, the President will be appointing a University-wide ethics officer to ensure we continue to meet the moral standards our institution has long represented.
We recognize that this is also an opportunity to increase awareness at the societal level about the devastating impact of sexual abuse. At the heart of these accusations is the issue of child abuse, and, as members of a leading research institution, we believe we can do much to bring awareness and change. To begin these efforts, Penn State is establishing the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children. The center, which will be located at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, will bring together clinicians, scientists, legal scholars, and educators to improve the detection, treatment, and prevention of child maltreatment. In addition, the University has partnered with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and has committed $1.5 million of our share of this year’s Big Ten bowl proceeds to help fund initiatives with these organizations.
We thank you for your loyalty and dedication to the University, and we ask you to continue to show your support for Penn State. As the University moves forward, we will also be relying upon the leadership of alumni like you, who represent all that’s best about Penn State in your own communities every day. There’s never been a more important time for Penn Staters to stand up for the values and the institution that we believe in. By remaining focused on the work of our students and faculty and the goals of For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students, we will make Penn State a better, prouder, and stronger university.
Choose to support Penn State; make your gift today.
Ann E. Lehman
Director, Penn State Annual Giving
P.S. Follow this link to make a special gift of support to the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children.”
The Penn State appeal is direct and deals with the important issues head-on. Of course, no letter from Penn State would have been easy to write or especially wonderful at this time. The University does deserve credit for continuing its needed fundraising efforts rather than reacting like a deer caught in the headlights. The author also deserves high marks for dealing with the issue directly. And, the University is to be commended for some of the positive steps it is taking as outlined in the communication.
Nevertheless, this email could have been stronger. For starters, the tone is institutional rather than personal. With its institutional tone and institutional letter signer, the reader would not expect the letter to say anything other than what it says. It’s calculating. The letter is simply self-serving, in its entirety. The same content, warmed up a bit, and over the signature of an alum would have struck a better tone. An alumnus or alumna, writing from the heart, could have been more compelling and could have better connected to fellow alumni.
Interestingly, the message does very little to establish a case for alumni support to the University at this time. In fact, it’s really not asking for unrestricted support for the University. Instead, the letter seeks support for a new initiative: The Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children. The email does not explain why alumni giving is needed for the initiative, how this initiative fits into Penn State’s institutional mission, or why the support is needed now. In effect, the University is asking alumni to help pay for a new, worthy project created because of the alleged bad behavior of Penn State staff and former staff. Alumni are being asked to help fund a calculated public relations move.
The message does not even reveal the steps Penn State is taking to make sure a similar situation never arises again, though such future disclosure is promised. Finally, the email does not even ask for a specific dollar amount.
So, while the letter is direct, it is flawed. But, I’m not sure a flawless letter would produce that much more.
What do you think of the Penn State appeal?
I tried to connect with Lehman to see how the appeal did and whether year-end fundraising has suffered as a result of the Sandusky fiasco. My email was forwarded to Lisa Powers, Director of the Department of Public Information at Penn State. Clearly, Penn State is handling media requests with an abundance of caution. Here is an excerpt of the response I received from Powers:
As is the case every year, we will be processing December-generated gifts at least through the end of January due to the heavy volume, thus I cannot give any comparison at this time. As to the overall effect on fundraising of these tragic events, it’s far too early to assess. Fundraising programs, by their nature, often show large variations year-to-year due to a variety of factors, including large one-time gifts, like the $88 million gift we received last year (2010). So it’s often difficult to draw accurate year-on-year comparisons. We will have a better idea in early April after the end of the first quarter of the new calendar year. By that time, the results of a number of annual fundraising initiatives will have been processed.”
So, beyond the AP report, we don’t really know the impact that recent events have had on Penn State fundraising. We do know that the University is making an effort to raise money and that many key donors are still supporting Penn State. However, these are clearly not easy times for the University.
All development professionals should continue to monitor the situation. We all can learn a great deal about the impact a crisis can have and how to respond, or not respond, to a crisis when we are confronted by one.
Of course, Penn State, as an institution, committed no crime. Crimes and/or misdeeds were allegedly committed by individuals working for or formally working for the University. Sandusky is not Penn State. While some will debate the degree to which the University was ultimately culpable, Penn State continues to be one of the nation’s outstanding public research universities. As such, it continues to be worthy of support. As a Pennsylvania taxpayer, I am very unhappy with the actions of some individuals. However, I continue to be proud that my tax dollars help fund a worthy institution staffed by tens of thousands of dedicated people and attended by tens of thousands of earnest students.
On the other hand, I do not want my money going to admitted child rapist Roman Polanski, in the news recently because of the release of his latest movie. The award-winning film director, in 1977, drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl. While he admitted guilt in a plea deal, he fled the United States before sentencing thereby avoiding any jail time. Efforts to extradite Polanski back to the U.S. have failed.
Despite Polanski’s evil crime and evasion of justice, he remains inexplicably popular in some circles. For example, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly thought well enough of the admitted rapist to work for him in his latest movie, Carnage, now in theaters. I was once a Polanski fan. I really wanted to see Carnage since I missed it when it was performed as a Broadway play. However, I will not enrich Polanski. I will not go.
Will you join me in skipping Carnage?
If you’re a Penn State alum, I encourage you to carefully consider your support of your alma mater. There are many good people there working to make the world a better place. Your money can do good there. However, whether or not you attended Penn State, I encourage you not to give your money to Polanski. Skip seeing Carnage. Please do not give your money to the admitted child-rapist.
If you’re desperate for a great movie to watch, go see The Artist. It’s a new, mostly silent, black and white movie that will undoubtedly be nominated for Oscar’s Picture of the Year. And, I don’t think any child rapists were involved.
I serve on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, an organization that brings justice and healing to the victims of child sexual abuse. To learn more about this horrible crime and what you can do to prevent it, please visit the PCA website or visit the website for the National Children’s Alliance.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?