Anyone need some change?

I have a small but nice chunk of change that I want to donate to Gallaudet University. Given how the university has bombarded my family with literature begging for donations the past few years, I assumed they’d jump at the chance for some money.

Yeah, you’d think.

Instead, I’ve been given the runaround for over a year (yup, you read that right) trying to get someone, anyone, at the university to take my money.

Since 2007, I’ve been traveling the nation on a speaking tour, sharing for the first time the documents involved with the expose I did on Holly Daniel. At each of the presentations, I announced that a portion of my earnings would be donated to Gallaudet University. Specifically, I wanted to donate it to the Deaf Studies program.

Prior to the tour, I contacted the appropriate individuals at the university. They were each very interested, and the development office asked me to fill out a donation form. Another individual and I planned a videophone meeting; that never took place because of delays on her part. After continued attempts to get this scholarship set up for over a year with almost no results, I decided that I would stop expending my energy on what seemed a fruitless endeavor.

Around the same time I made this decision, I attended the Gallaudet University Alumni Association Charter Day festivities. I happened to informally meet with a new development office representative. I expressed interest in perhaps redirecting my donation to the university’s new museum fund. She reassured me she would look into this right away. That was last April.

Today, I’m still waiting for somebody, anyone, to take my donation. I wrote a letter to Gallaudet and sent a copy to President Bob Davila’s office. To date, I have not received a response or acknowledgment.

Gallaudet University has expressed concerns both privately and publicly about its dwindling number of donations; some people have pointed to the 2006 protests as a possible cause. Based on my struggles in trying to give my money to the university, it seems to me that the cause is painfully clear: they don’t respond to actual donation offers from people they consider unimportant – like me.

Maybe they think the amount I want to donate is too small. It’s not $20,000, but it’s not $500, either. Yet beggars can’t be choosers. Take a story my friend shared. He worked for a museum in the development office, and there was a woman who donated “only” $10 each year for many years. One year, she suddenly decided to donate $25,000. The lesson here is it doesn’t matter what the amount is. Each donor must be treated equally, whether it’s $10, $1,000 or millions of dollars.

I’ve been asked why I don’t donate the money to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Here’s why: when I wrote the Daniel story in 1997, NAD was steadfast in its refusal to lend my story any support. I asked the organization time after time for a comment or support, but never succeeded. After the story hit the national media – it was the focus of a popular Chicago Tribune column twice, appeared in the New York Times, and had a front-page mention in Advertising Age – NAD suddenly expressed interest. Perhaps it’s because NAD didn’t want to alienate potential advertisement income. Whatever the reason, it wouldn’t be right for me to donate this specific money to them. Never mind that NAD is near and dear to my heart today.

So, I’m trying to figure out what to do with this money. Perhaps my company should set up a one-time scholarship fund so I can give away this money. Or perhaps I should simply donate it to a local deaf organization. I don’t know.

Anyone need some change?

Update (Sept. 26)
I am truly impressed. Only hours after this entry was published, I received a call from Paul Drehoff, the vice president of institutional advancement at Gallaudet University. He’s new to the university, and among his responsibilities is the oversight of the development office.  He left a sincere apology on my videomail, and I e-mailed him in response.

He replied with another apology, and we set up a time to talk on the phone today at noon. Today, he called at noon sharp, and accompanying him was the development office’s Doris Parent. After some small talk, we quickly and easily worked out the arrangements for my donation to the university’s new museum fund.

I was quite pleased with Mr. Drehoff’s sincerity and eagerness to get things done. What impressed me even more was that Mr. Drehoff didn’t try to excuse anyone’s behavior. He said what happened should have not happened, and he’s right.

There’s hope yet for the university.

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