Last week, BowdoinOne Day—the College’s largest annual donation campaign—proceeded as normal, despite a movement among alumni to withhold donations until the College pays its workers a living wage. As the campaign concluded, the number of donations has not yet reached the College’s target of 8,200 gifts.
The movement to withhold donations began this fall, after an Orient report drew attention to financial hardships among the College’s housekeeping staff.
The Office of Development and Alumni Relations measures donations by both the number of donors and by the monetary amount donated. The 7,687 donations, which include both One Day donations and those made since June 30, 2018, left the College 513 contributions short of its 8,200 gift goal. These goals are set for the entire fiscal year, which ends on June 30.
Despite falling below the target number of donations, Senior Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Scott Meiklejohn was optimistic about the One Day contributions.
“Gifts on One Day this year were down a little, against our goal, but we are ahead of last year in total Alumni Fund cash and pledges, and ahead of last year in total contributions to our annual giving programs,” Meiklejohn wrote in a statement to the Orient.
Despite being ahead of last year in money raised, the number of donations did not match 2017 numbers. By May 5, 2017 the College had received 8,250 donations—563 more than this year.
In conjunction with the Bowdoin Labor Alliance, a group of alumni has supported initiatives throughout the year, which have included wearing yellow ribbons to indicate solidarity with workers and encouraging alumni to sign a petition demanding the College to raise the minimum wage. These efforts have culminated in the pledge to withhold donations to the College.
Alumnus David Prouty ’80 P ’19 signed the pledge immediately after learning of the campaign. Prouty, a lawyer who represents labor unions, feels strongly about raising the minimum wage and has supported the campaign since he heard of it in the fall.
“Here is the irony: I had made a contribution to Bowdoin [the morning I found out about the campaign to withhold funds]. I thought, I have to support the workers,” Prouty said. “I wrote to the director of giving, said I wasn’t aware of the labor campaign, and I want to rescind my contribution. To their credit they said okay, fine.”
Sydney Avitia-Jacques ’18, one of the organizers of the alumni campaign, found that many alumni were concerned that withholding donations would take away from financial aid or would even prevent the College from paying a living wage. To ease those concerns, the group established a discretionary fund that would go towards supplementing staff salaries. Avitia-Jacques says that the fund is a positive way to contribute to the community.
“We are not trying to starve the College of money. That is not going to happen and [is] not our goal,” Avitia-Jacques said.
According to Avitia-Jacques, the campaign has gotten the College to respond to the movement in ways that other publication efforts had not. As of now, the pledge has received 244 signatures. Combined, the 244 signers reported they would have donated a total of $10,282. The discretionary fund currently has a balance of $2,125.
Some alumni say they would consider donating again if the College payed all its workers a livable wage.
“I would like to see Bowdoin adopt a policy of a $15 minimum wage for all of its workers. If they take other steps that show their regard for this issue, would I think about giving to Bowdoin again? Yeah,” said Prouty.
The living wage issue isn’t the only Bowdoin controversy keeping alums from donating.
Social justice activist DeRay McKesson ’07 announced in a Facebook post that he would not donate to the College after American Enterprise Institute (AEI) President Arthur Brooks was appointed the inaugural Joseph McKeen Visiting Fellow.
“Arthur Brooks did an interview recently where he noted not to give money to places in which your values aren’t present. And it’s in that spirit that I will not be donating to Bowdoin College this year,” McKesson wrote.