Speaking Out

Penn's Way: Can Do Better

As one of the people who worked to create a Combined Charitable Campaign a few years ago, I am compelled to respond to the statements made by John Fry and Carol Scheman in last week's Almanac .

First, a combined campaign is not defined by how the partner organizations are presented in a brochure. A true combined campaign, the one Penn faculty and staff voted for, means that no one umbrella organization administers the drive. In an open campaign all umbrella groups are treated equally, and contributions are not channeled first through United Way or any other umbrella organization.

The plan proposed for this year goes against the vote, has all funds go first to United Way, which takes 11.9%, and then to the donor's umbrella group of choice (for example, Women's Way, Black United Fund, Bread and Roses, United Jewish Appeal), which also has administrative costs that must be deducted before the money can be put to work in our community. Under this method, fewer of our dollars are working to improve Philadelphia; more are going to administrative overhead--just what people at Penn wanted to avoid.

Mr. Fry and Ms. Scheman are correct that those costs were always there, and were being borne by Penn. One way to look at that is to earmark these overhead costs as part of Penn's contribution to its community. That is what Harvard does.

But if we cannot bear the costs, and we need to outsource the campaign, then we should do what the City of Philadelphia and other organizations have done: let the campaign be run by the Center for Responsible Funding, a neutral party with no vested interest in any of the different umbrella organizations.

Times change and so do organizations. United Way does important work in our community. But there is an unfortunate history with United Way, which has excluded women's groups, environmental groups and other organizations. Letting United Way run our campaign is guaranteed to turn some potential donors away, and that certainly works against what we are trying to accomplish.

It is true, as Mr. Fry and Ms. Scheman report, that our giving dropped off last year. But that is not because we moved to a new model. Quite the contrary, the first years of our combined campaign set new records for generosity. Last year's total dropped precipitously because the University decided to conduct Penn's Way without departmental solicitors. Surely anyone who has done fund-raising knows that a direct appeal works much better than an intramural mailing, which is what was substituted last year.

I understand the thinking behind the decision to change Penn's Way, but I believe those who decided did not themselves understand the full history of charitable giving at the University and in Philadelphia. I hope it is not too late to re-think that decision for this year, but if it is, then those of us who worked on this issue years ago are ready to work again with the administration to return Penn's Way to what our faculty and staff said they wanted: a truly open, robust, combined campaign. We can do better; we owe it to our Philadelphia community.

--Patricia Rose, Director, Career Planning and Placement Service University of Pennsylvania

Outsourcing on Horseback

So FinMIS is once again the whipping boy, and outsourcing the knight in shining armor, galloping to the rescue! And, mirabile dictu, the activity threatened, then rescued, is the organization of workplace charitable giving ( "Demise of Combined Campaign" and response, Speaking Out, November 12, 1996). The outside contractor is United Way, at first blush not an unreasonable choice. One wonders whether the 11.9% that they will cream off donations for providing these services will appear as a "saving" in some balance sheet touting the successes of reengineering.

I have long held United Way in considerable suspicion. Readers will recall some of the more recent problems. During the '80s, when it became possible to direct donations to charities of one's choice, from a list provided, none associated with the provision of women's reproductive health services to needy audiences appeared on that list, apparently at the behest of the Roman Catholic Church. There were concerns about charities managed by and directed towards minorities, too.

Concerned employees eventually persuaded the University to hold a referendum, out of which came the Combined Campaign, in which United Way was just one of a number of recipients. Strangely enough at the same time organizations with names confusingly similar to the alternates appeared in United Way's list.

The Aramony scandal should have been the coup de grâce. Mr. Aramony engaged in embezzlement and nepotism, and other unsavory though possibly not illegal practices, to support his lifestyle and salacious adventures. To be fair, his part of the United Way conglomerate did not handle funds destined for charities; they were concerned with campaign organization--the 11.9%. Why the University did not sever all relationships with United Way then I do not know. Was it said that that kind of thing happens in even the best of organizations from time to time, and anyway they've cleaned up their act now? Or was there someone in a powerful position, as was rumored at the time, who wanted the relationship to continue?

Given the history of employee involvement in shaping the University's charitable campaign, one wonders how this latest change was decided. The response cited above is little help. It begins coyly in the passive voice: "a decision was made." Later a mysterious "Committee," nameless and faceless, with an ominous capital "C" takes control, but is never explained. It all seems very underhand and cryptic to me.

I am sure that many in the University will now do as I have long done: give directly to the charities of their choice. What would be wrong with that? Why the concern over what percentage of employees in which unit contributed to the workplace campaign, especially when it raises the specter of coercion? But it would be a pity if the lack of an ac-ceptable option with the convenience of payroll deduction caused some not to give at all.

-- Martin Pring, Associate Professor of Physiology/Med

How to Give 100%

The decision to re-channel Penn's workplace giving through the United Way, unwise as it is, has been taken and probably cannot be undone in the short time left for assisting the charities of our choice this year--though it must surely be fully discussed before the advent of Penn's Way '98.

For now, the important thing is that each of us as an individual can, with the stroke of a pen, restore the real Penn's Way on our own--by giving directly to the agencies and organizations of our choice.

This will not enhance the statistics on participation by which some people are said to measure the community spirit of Penn's faculty and staff. It will, however, let us be 11.9% more generous to our neighbors, for it bypasses the tax that will be applied to such gifts if they are channeled through the United Way acting as Penn's Way contractor.

To give a dollar, instead of giving 88.1 cents, can make a very significant difference.

The unrepresented umbrellas that Penn's Way embraced after the referendum five years ago were:

Black United Fund of Pennsylvania
2227 North Broad Street
Philadelphia PA 19132

Bread and Roses Community Fund
1500 Walnut Street, Suite 1305
Philadelphia PA 19102

United Negro College Fund
111 S. Independence Mall East,
Suite 910, Philadelphia PA 19106

Women's Way
1233 Locust Street
Philadelphia PA 19107

-- Phoebe S. Leboy, Professor of Biochemistry/Dent

At the Drawbridge

I have never been more proud of my university than on Wednesday, November 13, when two very different events showed what tremendous progress Penn is making toward a more humane and diverse society.

The first, at noontime, was a magnificently spirited "celebration of the University and the Community" in Houston Hall, where many leaders of Penn and the real world expressed their mutual respect and solidarity as we work to reclaim and improve our city. On a campus beset by fears of violence, deeply shaken by the loss of that brilliant scientist and wonderful man Vladimir Sled', I was heartened by the courage and dedication of our faculty, staff and senior administration--and especially of our neighbors--as they paused, said thanks to each other, and got on with the job. One of the most touching things I have ever heard was the Rev. Patterson's saying that all his life Penn had been the castle on the hill, with a moat not to be crossed, but that finally the drawbridge had come down.

The second event was the University Council meeting where President Rodin described a master plan that gives physical coherency to what we are trying to do in education, research and service--a plan that not only meets the University's needs for space and identity, but also turns a welcoming face toward our neighbors. Tearing down ugly walls, both symbolic and real, may turn out to be the hallmark of the Rodin administration, and one that the next century's University family will be grateful for.

I am heartsick that these encouraging signs come in the midst of revelations that we have gone backward in the Penn's Way campaign, as shown in last week's Speaking Out letters. There is something not coherent in overturning the consensus of 1991 without consultation, at a time when our leadership has promised to consult before outsourcing. And there is something ungenerous toward our community in putting all our eggs back in the United Way basket, in view of what that symbolizes to those who look for help from agencies that have been historically rejected by the United Way.

John Fry and Carol Scheman seem to be saying that gifts to Penn's Way dropped in '96 because of some built-in flaw in combined campaigning. That is not a valid conclusion to draw from the data. As co-chair of the '95 campaign--which set a new high in charitable giving at Penn--I would suggest a far more likely cause of the drop in '96 was the University's withdrawal of official sanction for staff coordinators to devote time to the campaign. That is certainly a logical thesis to have explored before abandoning all the progress that had been made in the four years prior to the one-time drop in proceeds.

This university needs trust, consensus, and cooperation as we plan together for the 21st century. Penn's Way is one of the few areas in which we actually had achieved consensus, and maintained it for over five years. It is tragic to see it thrown away so lightly.

What matters now is that people give and give generously to the charities of their choice. For me, this will mean giving outside the Penn's Way umbrella. I wish this dilemma were not forced on me, or on anyone else in the University. But I need to tell my neighbors I'm not up there in that castle, I'm down here at the foot of the drawbridge with the gifts I promised to those in need in my community. This year my gifts will have to go to them without Penn's name attached, but they will go--and that is what this is all about.

-- Helen C. Davies, Professor of Microbiology/Med and Senior Resident, Spruce House/The Quad

Response to Penn's Way Letters

The letters from our colleagues clearly indicate the need for a thorough analysis and discussion about how we will manage Penn's Way '98.

We are committed to having this dialogue and will put together a representative group early next semester to discuss how we move forward with a Campaign that provides maximum benefits to the recipient organizations.

-- John A. Fry, Executive Vice President
-- Carol R.Scheman, Vice President for Government, Community, and Public Affairs


Volume 43 Number 13
November 19/26, 1996

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