I read with great interest "The Giving Plea" article by Mark Bernstein ’83 in the June issue. As a long-time class agent for Annual Giving, I have been curious as to the phenomenon of rising dollar contributions and declining percentages of participants. The article does a fine job of discussing the history of Annual Giving and potential factors that might be contributing to that decline in participation at Princeton.
But as President Eisgruber is quoted as saying in the article, this is not a Princeton-specific phenomenon. That is both a positive and negative factor. It suggests that Princeton is not doing anything inappropriate, but it also indicates that it could be a significant challenge to fix it.
What are the factors external to Princeton that might be contributing to this result? Well, one of them to my mind is the growing disparity in income and wealth, as so eloquently expressed by Thomas Piketty in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. He noted the trend for fewer members of society to earn considerably greater income and garner much greater wealth, while much of the rest of the population falls behind. In the charitable sector, this can easily lead to larger gifts by fewer donors along with a decline in donors who feel they are not “keeping up” economically.
Like so many things, there are usually multiple causes, not just a single one.