USF Foundation in need of better communication

As the summer wanes and the fall semester grows closer, the concern of many students is shifting from how to spend lazy summer days to how to afford tuition and books.

But students are not the only people concerned about funding higher education. Not surprisingly, a survey reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education late last year found a majority of college presidents deal with fund raising issues on a daily basis. But fund raising requires stewardship, not just the accountability of assets, to ensure funds are allocated in a timely and efficient manner.

While many students may not be aware of the USF Foundation, chartered in 1958, its self-described mission is “the legal conduit for the acceptance, investment and distribution of all private gifts made to the University of South Florida.” These distributions can be made in the form of faculty development, research funds, facilities construction and scholarships, just to name a few. But is the USF Foundation operating as well as it could?

Take the USF Foundation Scholarship Program, for example. According to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, which manages the university-wide foundation scholarships, the 2006-07 academic year awards were between $500 and $14,000 based on the criteria set for the individual scholarships. The deadline for submission for these scholarships was March 17, 2006. This is where the communication breakdown began.

As steward of financial gifts, the USF Foundation should have the obligation to ensure that the donor’s generosity is mirrored by timely awarding of scholarships. This would reflect both academic achievement and address the financial need for the coming academic year. This was not the case this year, as notification of awards took nearly three and a half months.

Sure, there were many scholarships to be awarded and many applicants, but to take this amount of time to notify recipients of their awards reflects poorly upon the foundation. It shouldn’t matter whether a donor gives millions of dollars or a few hundred – either way, the organization should ensure it functions as a conduit to match donors and students.

A simple letter stating that although unexpected delays had cropped up, the scholarships were still being considered and processed could have prevented ongoing miscommunication and student frustration. Unfortunately, this was not done. Instead, the Foundation failed to communicate well during the process, resulting in applicants who did not know when they would find out whether a scholarship had been awarded.

In the interest of full disclosure, it is important to add my application was one of the 600 submitted to the Foundation and one that was not selected for an award. Sure, some might say this column is a result of sour grapes on my part, but truthfully this is not the case.

As USF celebrates 50 years, it will achieve little by marking past achievements without improving organizations for the future. Higher education, and USF specifically, should herald achievement, discipline and time management, but some bureaucratic organization within it do not practice such traits. Where this is the case, change is required to best prepare USF for the next 50 years.

Certainly, the USF Foundation has an important role to play in the future at USF. Private philanthropy is a crucial avenue to fund campuses in an era devoid of adequate state and federal dollars. This organization provides donors a method to directly invest in the community’s future.

Furthermore, it’s important to remember the stewardship and organization at the Foundation today affects future fund raising efforts. After graduation, students can become potential donors. An ineffective USF Foundation could potentially impact future philanthropy if individuals are not confident their gifts will be properly utilized.

With such a large and important commitment to the USF of tomorrow comes accountability. Donors have put their trust in the USF Foundation to best align their goals for giving with the university’s needs. Responsible fund raising does not end when the assets arrive but rather when it is dispersed in a timely and appropriate manner. Only through an efficient and well-organized USF Foundation, which includes scholarship allocation, will the goals of the university community be achieved.

Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.