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Professor “Honest Tea” Takes On A New Crusade

by Thomas MacMillan | Dec 2, 2013 4:14 pm

(11) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Higher Ed, Social Services

Yale Photo Yale staff and faculty took a total of $1.1 million from their paychecks and gave it to the United Way in 2012. That’s an impressive number, but it came from only a small fraction of the entire Yale workforce, according to a professor pushing to increase the percentage.

The professor, Barry Nalebuff of the Yale School of Management, the cofounder of Honest Tea and a widely read expert on business strategy and game theory, heads up his department’s annual workforce giving campaign with the United Way.

Big employers like Yale that participate in the campaign set up a way for employees to give straight from their paycheck, and encourage them to do so. The campaign is a major part of the United Way’s annual fundraising, to support a wide variety of social service initiatives in and around New Haven.

Nalebuff (pictured) acknowledged that Yale gives a lot to the United Way. But the university could do much more, he said. Compared to Quinnipiac University, where between 20 and 30 percent of staff and faculty give, the participation rate could be better, Nalebuff said.

Nalebuff calculated the participation rate for the staff and faculty of most of the universities schools at 5.9 percent. He said that rate would drop even lower if you factor in the total number of workers at Yale in all of its many offices and programs.

The United Way’s Josh Mamis said Yale is “at every level a great partner for the United Way.” He pointed out that Yale has more than doubled its contributions, from $448,827 in 2002 to over $1 million in 2012.

According to 2012 workplace giving campaign figures from the United Way:

• Yale raised $1,108,692 from 1,329 donors, for an average donation of $834.

• Quinnipiac University raised $57,281 from 274 donors, for an average donation of $209.

• University of New Haven raised 35,211.27 from approximately 247 donors, for an average donation of $143.

UNH’s website says the university has about 1,052 faculty and staff, which would mean a participation rate of, very roughly, 23 percent.

Brian Kelly, who heads up Quinnipiac’s United Way campaign, said the university had a participation rate of about 30 percent. He said the university has just under 1,100 total faculty and staff, which would put the participation rate at around 25 percent, given the figures the United Way provided.

“We can do better,” Nalebuff said. As a way of “throwing down the gauntlet,” he compiled some statistics (see chart at top of story) on 2012 participation rates and average contribution size by school within Yale. Nalebuff said he gathered the numbers to try to “peer pressure” Yale.

His figures show the architecture school coming in last in terms of participation, with only 2.9 percent of employees giving to the United Way. The School of Drama, however, had the lowest average contribution: $6.22. That’s not even enough for a ticket to a Yale theater performance, Nalebuff noted.

Staff and faculty at the Yale Divinity School opened their wallets the most often. Perhaps motivated by a religious sense of charity, 20.15 percent of them gave.

But the biggest average donation was found among the titans of industry at the Yale School of Management: $760.07.

Nalebuff said the overall donation size—calculated at $834 based on the figures provided by the United Way—was so high because a few individuals at Yale gave huge amounts of money, up to $70,000.

“We could be raising $5 million for the United Way,” Nalebuff said. “And New Haven could use that. New Haven has substantial needs.”

Mamis said Yale’s workplace contributions amount to about a quarter of the total raised in 2012 by the United Way in workplace giving and individual donations: $4,251,173.

“We could be half, or three quarters,” Nalebuff said.

“In absolute numbers, $1.2 million is a lot,” Nalebuff said. But, he continued, think about what a small fraction of the “well-to-do” faculty and staff at Yale are contributing.

Asked about the comparison between Yale and Quinnipiac, Mamis said fundraising is more difficult at Yale because the school is so much larger. The most effective fundraising method is face-to-face interaction, he said. “Yale’s a very big institution. You just can’t get in front of everybody.”

Mamis said he’d love to see a higher participation rate at Yale, but “if there’s room to grow, the onus is on us and not on the leadership at Yale.” Mamis said the Yale administration has “done all kinds of things to increase participation,” including recording videos and speaking at events. “Anything you ask of them, they’re there.”

Nalebuff said Yale doesn’t do enough to promote workplace giving. “In other places, if people don’t give, they get a call.”

Kelly said Quinnipiac has fundraising “captains” for different sections of the university, charged with encouraging their colleagues to give.

Nalebuff said Yale sends out an email each year about giving to the United Way, “but no one follows up with phone calls.”

“It’s not a real campaign,” Nalebuff said.

Asked for comment, Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart said only, “Yale University’s United Way campaign has an ambitious goal of raising over $1 million this year. and we’re confident we will meet that goal.”

“I think Yale should match employee contributions to the United Way, or match just new contributions,” Nalebuff said. He said he is personally matching at School of Management donations this year.

Mamis also said that Quinnipiac and UNH United Way numbers are bolstered by student participation in bake sales and raffles. The participation rate among Yale students is not as high, he said.

“It’s not a knock on the students; we just haven’t gotten there yet,” he said. “We do a lot of work with our Yale partners to grow participation, and I think it’s going to grow.”

“It’s not just about the dollars,” Mamis stressed. “It’s about building a community that wants to see positive change.” The United Way could try different approaches to fundraising that might lead to more money or higher participation, Mamis said. But getting people involved and caring is more important, he said. “We really want people to be engaged in the community. It’s just as important as getting people to sign a pledge form.”

“I can’t stress enough how important that is to the overall strategy: engagement, not dollars,” Mamis said. In terms of engagement, Yale “couldn’t be better,” he said.

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posted by: robn on December 2, 2013  4:23pm

A more interesting way to gauge generosity would be to track donations as percentage of individual income. You might find the School of Drama people to be more generous than the SOM people.

Also, track the mean instead of the average so a single $70,000 donation doesn’t give the impression that everyone at SOM donated $760.

posted by: DingDong on December 2, 2013  4:29pm

Why the focus on giving to the United Way as opposed to some other charity/non-profit?

posted by: Kevin on December 2, 2013  5:26pm

Robn, you mean “median” rather than “mean” :o)

posted by: nhstudent4ever on December 2, 2013  8:01pm

While charity and generosity are undoubtedly good characteristics, no one should feel forced to give. Not all Yale professors have tons of disposable income and everyone should feel free to give to whatever organization they choose to support. Nalebuff’s insistency seems a bit off putting to me.

posted by: robn on December 3, 2013  12:12am


yes! :$

posted by: Rosas on December 3, 2013  12:33pm

DingDong asks a good question. Local non-profits benefit more when a gift goes directly to them without the United Way getting a cut. That’s why I always give directly.

posted by: newhaven55 on December 3, 2013  12:49pm

Yale should provide options between various charities. it is extremely frustrating as an employee, who is underpaid and already giving to other charities, to continually be hounded by Yale to donate to this one charity.

posted by: Janetruth on December 3, 2013  2:29pm

I worked at Yale for over 35 years fairly happily…that said, I resented Yale trying to direct my giving and taking credit for it.  My awareness happened when I was ‘TOLD’ I was to get a 100% participation from the dept [yes or no] where I worked and it was my job, I DID NOT VOLUNTEER to do this although it was reported I did. 
NOT everyone at Yale gets good pay that allows them to be willing to have their pay check always cut. Maybe if I was cofounder of something that succeeded I’d see this differently but the good news is that some people do give a lot and perhaps the drive reminds them to do it.  Leave the rest of the employees alone to do as they wish! I wish Yale had done that for me.

posted by: EarlyBird on December 3, 2013  3:01pm

Ditto that, 55 and Jane! I think most employees are aware that the United Way is the charity of choice for Yale. Contrary to Mr. Nalebuff’s position, there are plenty of ways this is brought to our attention. We get it. And I’m not knocking them as an institution. However, I choose to donate MY money to alternative, and equally terrific, groups. And no amount of “peer pressure” or follow-up phone calls is going to change my mind. BTW, I appreciate Mr. Mamis’ most gracious response to all this!

posted by: give43 on December 4, 2013  1:31pm

Perhaps there is a slightly different way to interpret this information.  Individuals in our society are allowed and encouraged to be well informed and thoughtful about their personal philanthropy. I imagine the overall personal giving levels at Yale, as well as at Quinnipiac and UNH are much higher than what the numbers in this article reflect.

There are myriad very substantive and most deserving nonprofit organizations in our community and beyond, and their missions and good work are supported by many. Many (most?) donate directly to the organizations which are most meaningful to them; indeed these organizations work very hard to earn those dollars. Also, by donating directly, the ever increasing percentage the United Way takes off the top of every gift is negated, and the organization is able to enjoy the full impact of the contribution.

The United Way model, which aggregates gifts and then chooses where to disperse the dollars is no longer the best way for many, who are actively engaged and confident in their ability to make their own good decisions about their own philanthropy. In fact, as mentioned in previous comments, more and more people are resentful at being coerced into participating, simply so their workplace will have better numbers, which ultimately is not about making a difference, but about a manufactured competition.

Statistics show that Americans are the most philanthropic individuals in the world. It is basic fundraising 101 to ensure that every donor is made to feel good about their contribution. The notion put forth here…. that Yale personnel aren’t doing enough…. is both wrong, and antithetical to to encouraging intelligent and informed giving.

posted by: hart1 on December 5, 2013  12:36pm

How much does Yale Corporation give to its charity of choice? Employee giving might perk up if Yale matched employee contributions. Better yet, if Yale matched employee contributions to any preferred 501c3 group, charitable giving would rise. Yale aught not SHAME its employees into giving to United Way; that’s not the HONEST way or the only way to give.

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