Klein: Give to Yale now

This year’s tremendously successful Senior Class Gift project may be over, but the discussion it sparked remains relevant. Now is the time to change how we conceive of donating to Yale.

No longer the restricted purview of alumni, departing seniors and parents desperate for their child’s admission, contributing to Yale should be, if not an obligation, at least a core principle for every Yale undergraduate who enjoys and values the experiences that the College provides us with.

Indeed, even beyond the gloomy economic forecast, giving to Yale is simply the right thing to do. Even at the $5 level, donating is a meaningful act of appreciation and respect.

I know what you’re thinking: Yale may have taken a hit, but it’s still the second-richest academic institution in the country. Yale’s endowment comprises an imposing and aloof hedge fund whose financial mechanisms few of us understand and which won’t be affected by a small donation. These are tougher times for the rest of us than they are for Yale (and for its wealthy, older donors), made tougher by our hefty tuition costs. As a good friend told me, “For a lot of people, Yale seems the most financially stable thing in their lives.” Good point.

But giving to Yale is a virtue that extends beyond the necessity of the dollars themselves. It may be true that Yale doesn’t “need” my $5 donation to continue doing what it does best, but gifts help: What we pay in tuition only covers half the cost of a student’s Yale education. But instrumental value aside, a gift to Yale is symbolically important in other meaningful ways.

Fundamentally, it’s all about membership. Even the smallest of donations makes you a trustee and a stakeholder. A student who donates becomes more than a consumer; he or she becomes an active member, with a vested interest in the success or failure of the school. Donating shows our common resolve as students who care about Yale, and as a community that supports itself from within as well as from without.

How much Yale directly benefits from a student’s donation is less important than the respect and unity of purpose that it entails. In other words, what matters shouldn’t be how much we give, but that we give at all.

Suppose you don’t agree with certain funding decisions the University is making. Many students use objections like these as an excuse not to donate. In my opinion, this logic is backwards. Although it’s true that by virtue of our exorbitant tuition we gain the right to criticize the school when we find its services inadequate, the extra act of giving implies an even greater stake in Yale’s decision-making process. Taking the time and energy to donate puts the critic’s money where his or her mouth is.

Some have also argued that since Yale can divide the endowment into different areas however it wishes, all gifts to the University are fungible; that is, even if a student stipulates that his or her donation go toward, say, financial aid, in the long run, wily financial maneuvering can always redirect these funds. Again, I think the concern is misguided. We should be focusing on the end product, as it relates to us. Rather than obsessing over individual funding decisions, we should be considering how they fit together into the greater whole, and the quality of the experiences that this whole, the University, provides us with.

I’m not one to foam blue at the mouth in Yale pride, but I recognize that whatever the Yale Corporation and the Investments Office are doing up in their ivory towers of asset management, it’s working for me. Far be it from me to judge what Yale does with my money if, in the end, it improves my life here. I like the end product, so I’m going to support the process. I would not presume to know more about how to manage this place than the Yale Corporation, or how better to fund it than the Investments Office; the quality of Yale, and of my time here, provides all the validation I need.

In short, giving to Yale may be more emotional than intellectual. No, it is not a wholehearted stamp of approval, nor is it an act that will fundamentally change the school. But at its most basic level, it’s a sign of respect.

There are myriad meaningful ways to give back to and show love for Yale. Donating should be one of them, and an important one at that. The amount of your gift to Yale is less important than the recognition and gratitude it implies. Giving to Yale is like leaving a tip, or sending a thank-you note.

If you don’t like it here, then, well, don’t give. But if you value and enjoy the life this school gives you, and if you appreciate Yale, flaws and all, then forego one cart burrito, and sometime this summer click online and make your appreciation of Yale count. It doesn’t take much to say thank you, but it means a great deal.

Let’s be a community of appreciative givers — of participants and members, actively investing in the school’s future — not just takers.

Alex Klein is a freshman in Davenport College.


  • Henry

    Five dollars buys a child in Africa a vaccine. What does it buy for Yale?

  • Recent Alum

    I completely agree with this column, but I anticipate that donations by Yalies and alums who just graduated will decrease significantly in the next few years. Not so much because of the economy, but because more and more students see attending Yale as an entitlement rather than a privilege (which is not conducive to making donations).

  • robert99

    Yale was a good experience but so are lots of things that I don't contribute money to. I do not see any particular virtue in parting with money for this institution with its overwhelming endowment. If it costs twice as much to educate a Yale student as the tuition, let them double the tuition. I suspect suddenly Yale would have enough spaces for everyone who wanted to matriculate.

  • Sorry

    Recent Alum is correct.

    Yale is not an entitlement.

    It is a consumer product.

    And a nearly $50,000 one at that.


  • At #1

    Couldn't have said it better myself.

  • Future Yalie 2013

    Henry, you completely exemplified the exact misguided mentality that the columnist was talking about. The point is not what your five bucks will specifically do for Yale; the point is showing respect and gratitude for the school that provides its students with so much.

    I completely agree with this column, and sincerely hope that most Yalies hold the viewpoint expressed in it.

  • hmm

    maybe these tough economic times will be good for yale because they'll be forced to stop spending money on useless and wasteful things.

  • @Henry

    I value Yale more. Sorry.

  • Yale Parents

    Thanks, but we've already "donated" upwards of $150,000.

  • J

    Yeah, I'm pretty sure I already gave Yale a $150,000 gift. And a bonus $40,000 gift in honor of my room and dining.

    Don't talk to me about showing my respect and gratitude for Yale…I'm not sure what level of society the rest of you come from, but 1/5 of a million dollars is a lot of gratitude in my income bracket.

    Alex is a great guy, but he needs to realize that to families that aren't as wealthy as the Kleins (that is to say 99.99% of America), cash is not an abstract symbol of "membership", "community", or "recognition", it is very real and very scarce.

  • Anonymous

    I think the focus on monetary contribution is misguided. Of course we should be grateful for this community that gives us so much. But is money the best way for us to show that?

    I think the best way to give back to Yale as undergrads is to be active in the community, create and take advantage of opportunities to learn from your peers. This can be through community service, or through extra-curricular activities. Doing your part to make a difference in community life--which some argue is more important than the classes you will take here--is worth more to Yale than $5.

  • E

    Completely agree with posts #10 and #11. I find it ridiculous that anyone could possibly think that donating should be an "obligation." For one, I'm a broke college student, and two, I don't feel that donating is necessarily the best way to express my "gratitude."

    Also, the writer states that he doesn't care about what is done with the endowment. Have you all heard about the HEI workers that are mistreated by a company that Yale invests in? Everyone, especially the writer, should look into it, as it is reveals some pretty important things about how we get to this "end product."

  • noone has read this article

    pretty sure he said it was "not an obligation", distinguished a donation from "purchasing" and being a "consumer", and said there were "many ways to give back to Yale"… good reading skills guys

  • Y09

    Thanks, Alex. I guess it means a lot more coming from someone whose house in Seattle is valued by Zillow at $5.6MM.

    (It's amazing what the interwebs can do these days…)

  • AFormer

    Even though it's kind of creepy that Y09 managed to look up that information about the author of this article, I'd agree with his sentiment that it is much easier for the wealthy to say that it is 'good' to donate.

    People who are on financial aid are on financial aid for a reason. There is no obligation to donate to Yale after one has graduated. However, there is an obligation to respect one's college and grant that it has opened many doors for you. Note that none of this requires a monetary contribution to Yale's already-humongous endowment.

    Really, I'd rather have someone who is less well-off to invest in themselves, rise up and spend money on what makes them happy rather than donate to Yale.