Because they only talk to me when they want money

Last night I got a phone call from the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Hail Alma Mater, don’t throw shade on the corn, etc. It was a student doing a fundraising call on behalf of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Would I, as an alumnus, be interested in making an $x tax-deductible donation for student scholarships, programs, etc.

I said, trying not to sound menacing, “No, I’m not going to.”

She asked why I didn’t want to.

I told her, “Because they only talk to me when they want money.”

Is that a fair response? I could describe the conversations I’ve had with the Aero department since I left four years ago in two lines. One, I talked to the department’s external relations coordinator at a wedding. Two, I got an alumni newsletter from the department in 2008.

There may have been others, and I’m remiss to forget them, but even that should be a problem. I think they should want to say something memorable.

It’s not easy to keep track of alumni. I do it for ISU alumni in the US. Alumni are elusive. They have other lives now. Their contact information gets stale. Some of them need to be nudged a few times. Some of them don’t want to be affiliated anymore.

But dammit I’ve tried to contact every one of them (that is on my list) personally. Every. Single. One. Personally. I hate to sound like an attention-starved child, but if the Aero department won’t commit to communicating with me, I won’t commit anything to them.

I have the resources to help, though, and it’s a shame to withhold them. So I’m going to donate the $x to 826 Boston instead, where I tutor students on weekends. They ask me for money way more often than the Aero department. However, they also tell me what’s going on, share what other volunteers are up to, and ask for my time and attention even more often than they ask for money.

I know what 826 Boston is doing, I know where the money is going, and I can affect in some small way the direction of the organization by helping. I can write a check to anyone, but 826 Boston lets me make a difference.

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