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Few Seniors Choose Alternative Gift

By Thomas J. Castillo, Contributing Writer

While Senior Gift officials say they are on track to a record-breaking total this year, the Alternative Senior Gift (ASG) has had less success, receiving only 20 donations thus far.

Co-founded by Josh Edelman '00 and Greg A Novak '00, the ASG encourages students to donate to public service organizations rather than, or in addition to, the College.

"I would never say that Harvard is not a worthy cause, but there are plenty of charities out there that are much more needy," Edelman said.

Edelman said the low response rate is not because Harvard students don't care about their communities. Instead, he said, undergraduates' existing community service commitments, and ASG's limited resources for publicity and collection might have reduced participation.

With its roughly 1 percent participation rate, the ASG has raised $1,127 for organizations such as UNICEF and Get Ready, a program to help underprivileged students prepare for the SAT exam.

In contrast, 59 percent of seniors have already donated to the senior gift, according to Harvard College Fund Associate Director Dana F. Picardi.

This year's participation rate is expected to surpass last year's record-setting 60 percent. Last year the Senior Gift raised $68,036.

Edelman said he is not surprised by the disparity.

"We never expected we would raise millions. We hoped for more, but we raised thousands, and that's important," Edelman said.

"I don't think this really says anything negative about students' priorities. We were drastically out-manned and out-funded by the Senior Gift effort," he added.

An Understaffed Alternative

According to Picardi, 215 seniors volunteered to help raise money for the Senior Gift. The fundraising effort involved promotional dinners, House contests and door-to-door collections.

The aggressiveness of the Senior Gift campaign is one of the reasons Edelman and Novak chose to start the ASG. Edelman said many students found the tactics, especially the individual visits, too intrusive.

"That's a very provocative, in your face way to go about fundraising. We wanted students to feel free to make the choice on their own," Edelman said. "We tried to door drop rather than knocking on doors."

The publicity effort, consisting mostly of posted signs and flyers dropped in each senior's door, was funded almost entirely by Edelman and Novak.

Nonetheless, ASG donator Rebecca L. Goldberg '00 said that she thinks most seniors knew about the ASG.

"Almost everybody I've talked to knows about it," Goldberg said. "They usually say it's a good idea and a lot say they are considering a contribution, but they didn't go through with it. Maybe [the ASG] needed to be more aggressive and annoying."

According to ASG contributor Cissie Fu '00, another problem was the collection method.

"They just needed things to be more convenient," Fu said. "People don't like dealing with the mail, but [the ASG] doesn't have resources to just show up ask people to sign over $10 or $20."

To donate to the ASG, potential contributors needed to print out a form from the website, write a check and mail it to Novak or Edelman. In contrast, Senior Gift volunteers could accept checks in person.

Ari M. Lipman '00, winner of the Stride Rite Charitable Foundation public service fellowship, said that because many students have been involved with community service, they feel they already contribute to charities more directly.

"I appreciate the spirit, but I didn't need this excuse to help people out," Lipman said. "I guess many people to whom [the ASG] would appeal already give directly in their own ways."

Friendly Competition?

Both Picardi and Edelman said the official Senior Gift and the ASG are not direct competitors.

Picardi even praised the ASG's efforts.

"I think that they're all good causes," she said.

But several of the reasons cited by Edelman and the ASG website for giving to the ASG are also reasons not to give to the Senior Gift.

According to the website, even last year's record-breaking Senior Gift increased the endowment by less than a thousandth of a percent. And Edelman questions if the amount raised through the Senior Gift even covers its considerable fundraising costs. He said the Harvard College Fund claims to not have figures on the Senior Gift's overall profitability.

Despite the ASG's disappointing results this year, Edelman said he is optimistic that the ASG will be more successful in the future.

"I just think it's really good that we got an alternative out there," Edelman said. Edelman said the current incarnation of the ASG is likely to continue.

An unrelated Alternative Senior Gift was organized in 1996 to promote a greater female presence on the Faculty.

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