Thursday, May 26, 2011

The owl looked up to the stars above*

It’s only Thursday, and we’ve received ten appeals since Monday by mail and one at our door. Plus Bob Payton died and a memorial gift is suggested in his obituary.

We do not respond to direct mail, so those are easily set aside. Kevin—contrary to statistical trends identified by John List—told the young, attractive, tall blond woman speaking for Save the Children that we do not give at the door.

The dilemma comes from the Payton family’s request. We both worked with Bob and value his many contributions. We understand why he and Polly created the Joseph and Matthew Payton Philanthropic Studies Library and why the family requests gifts to it. However, much as we value the library and its staff, we still aren’t certain that we should make our gift in his memory there.

Once in the past, we made a memorial gift to an Evangelical church, following the wishes of the family, though our beliefs are different. But there, our loyalties were to surviving family members who are close to us. In this case, we are not friends of Bob’s heirs, and we have strong feelings about where our mite might have the most enduring impact.

While director at the Center on Philanthropy, Bob secured funding that supported creation of a faculty and enrollment of students for an MA in Philanthropic Studies. For the biggest long-term change, it feels like we should make the memorial gift to a scholarship fund for that program.

The Payton library will receive Bob’s books and surely needs funds to accession those thousands of volumes. Plus the librarian happily orders most materials that my husband requests for his students’ research and his own. Further, she fields questions from around the world, providing service far beyond the campus. There is no doubt that our gift would be used and used well.

But the library is at least partially funded by the University, whereas the Center relies very heavily on donations and revenue other than state funding. Scholarships would attract even more highly-qualified students to the MA in Philanthropic Studies, which further strengthens the field that Bob helped create. And with more students, there will be more demand for the library, not to mention the revenue impact for the campus of having candidates in a degree program.

Of course, we could do both, but not right now. We will have to choose one or the other – or make two miniscule contributions of token significance only. Since payday is next week, I guess we'll have some more time to sleep on it.

* Bob Payton took this medal with an owl as his personal symbol.

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