Keeping the Wren Bell Ringing

“I have a question for you all:
What would think if you got a letter from W&M about the close of The For the Bold Campaign and the new date for One Tribe One Day basically asking for money as the fiscal year closed?”

“i don’t know exactly what they are going to do, but in my mind One Tribe One Day has always been more about the number of Alums than the $ amount. I hope they will lead with asking everyone for $20.20”

I think it would be prudent for them to behave like most Americans are at this point, pausing, reviewing, planning for worst-case scenarios, AND NOT REALLY EXPECTING ANY HELP. So, yes, end the campaign, and sure, go ahead and make the ask – but don’t expect much from the community as a whole. They would be better off putting together a reasonable set of scenarios and budgets than simply going to their top 5-10% and asking those fortunate ones to bear the brunt of meeting the need. While I’m sure a hat-in-hand beg/plea could get a few bucks from almost everyone, I don’t want to guess how many people out there are making critical choices between giving and covering their own personal expenses. They should also consider how many people have decided to give to others that have more pressing, essential, critical needs (for example, former W&M contract employees that were let go).

I really hope when they make the ask, they don’t equate their needs to be above others who are in much worse shape…

Asking for $20.20 is fair. Start there, then offer people the opportunity to look deeper into the situation and make decisions as to where/how they may help.

I also think they should close off all the giving account codes and limit it to a handful of high level accounts (for example, scholarships, student services, faculty, buildings and grounds, employee assistance, to name a few). I hate to say it, but some programs are going to have to be cut. Dividing up the giving pie as broadly as it is defined now simply spreads scant resources too thin.

Again, they should prepare worst-case scenarios and budgets and offer those for the “deeper looks”.

They really need to come to grips with how badly this can be. One of the questions Laura Garret, the Pulitzer Prize winner, raised about the future was whether parents would be as willing to let their children go to college out of state…does W&M have a plan for losing 5 to 30 percent of the undergraduate enrollment that comes from out of state?

There was a piece in the Post Friday, May 8 by Lanhee J. Chen and Vanila M. Singh, both from Stanford University, about how to return to campus this fall. While they offer fair, common sense approaches, the reality is in the comments, mostly coming from parents, faculty, and community residents. The overwhelming uncertainty of risk runs the real possibility of “We’re back in business for Fall 2020” announcements turning into another “New Coke” fiasco. How many students are going to opt to take time off until they can actually get a face-to-face university experience? All institutions have been preparing for the coming challenge of decreased enrollment due to dropping college-aged populations. Well, whatever those plans were, they don’t begin to touch the challenge of immediate decreased enrollments due to the Coronavirus.

If W&M isn’t actively planning for this, it is only a matter of time before the Wren bell stops ringing. If they want support, they will have to inspire confidence. That will not come from professionally produced rah-rah videos that highlight its institutional greatness, but plans and budgets that cut to the chase, that are accessible, understandable, and realistic. The psychological impact of straight shooting cannot be overstated. Case in point, consider the difference between what came from the White House: “like magic, it will go away” versus what came from Virginia’s Governor last week: “we have to face reality.” He used an analogy of doctors making a treatment plan with a cancer patient, letting them know guidelines to follow and medicines to take. In a situation like that, we know that stopping the plan early just because it seems to be working is not the right course of action, because the cancer returns.

W&M will get more support by offering its entire community a comprehensive life-with-cancer diagnosis and treatment plan. I understand from a development standpoint that you don’t want to appear desperate and that anytime you put out a plan you are opening yourself up to detractors. By the same token, though, you are more at risk leaving people to wonder about just what you are doing. Reasonable people want the truth. Substance, not shine.

What do you think?
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