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Comparing (Dartmouth Green) Apples and (Princeton) Oranges

Dartmouth Giving.jpgAfter we recently published the chart on the right concerning the history of comparative rates of giving by Dartmouth and Princeton alums to their respective schools, Dartblog received the below e-mail from a Dartmouth alumnus concerning the calculation of the percentage giving rates at the two schools :

Some background from my days as a head agent: Dartmouth continues to manipulate its giving figures upwards by artificially lowering the base used in the computations. It does not use all living alumni, but omits those who have said they do not want to give or be contacted… [emphasis added] e.g. my class had 820 some people yet our base for participation is some 200 people less. We have not had this number of deaths yet. It makes a big difference in %… 50 vs 35.

When I asked about this several years ago, I was first told that it was unfair to measure the performance of the development office staffers by including people they were not able to contact. I.e. measuring staff performance was more important than measuring alumni satisfaction. When people began to see thru this, it was rationalized that we needed to follow the same practices of other Ivies in order to make accurate comparisons…. except that with some exploration I learned that Princeton, Brown, etc. do NOT follow this practice. According to Princeton’s giving website, which is much more open and transparent with detailed statistics, they include all living alums including the dis-enchanted ones in their numbers.

Dartmouth and Princeton have compared their alumni giving rates over the decades in a friendly competition to see who has the more loyal alumni. But are the comparisons fair, and whose manipulation of data shows greater integrity?

As regards his penultimate assertion, our correspondent is correct. The Green and the Tigers do compete, as the AskDartmouth website states:

Dartmouth ranks behind only Princeton in average annual alumni giving percentages since 1980, with Princeton at 57.8 percent to Dartmouth’s 56.1 percent.

In order to test our alumni friend’s latter charge, I went, as I always do, straight to the source — in this case, V.P. for Development Carrie Pelzel — to ask about the denominator used by the College. Lo and behold!, a gracious answer was forthcoming (let’s hear it for Kim-era transparency!):

When we calculate participation in the Dartmouth College Fund, we use the following numbers:

Denominator = # of living undergraduate alumni reduced by those flagged as “not interested”, “requested not to be solicited by the Fund”, “no good mailing address”

Numerator = # of those who gave to the Dartmouth College Fund

The denominator of all living undergraduate alumni is currently 56,477. The numerator of those eligible to be solicited is currently 50,978.

Using the above figures, we can calculate that 5,499 living alums are not included in Dartmouth’s determination of the percentage of alumni giving — 9.74% of living alumni.

My alumnus corrrespondent was wrong in one area — but not by much: I spoke briefly with the Associate Director of Giving to Princeton, Cynthia DiTullio, who told me that Princeton does something similar to Dartmouth, but that less than 2.2% of all Princeton alums have been removed from the rolls of its alumni for the purposes of calculating alumni participation (Princeton has no contact information for 1.2% of its alumni, and less than 1% of alumni have asked not to be contacted by the University).

If we take Dartmouth’s 2009 figures and correct for the missing alums, we find that it is incorrect to state, as the College did, that 45.9% of our alums gave to the College; rather the correct figure would be 40.67% (22,971 out of our 56,477 living alums).

Performing a similar correction for Princeton, that school’s reported giving rate for 2009 drops from 57.7% down to 56.48% (33,226 out of their 58,830 living alums).

(Note: Some of these figures will be slightly off due to the difference between current numbers as of December 2009 and numbers from fiscal 2009, which ended on June 30, 2009. However, the deviation is de minimis.)

I hope that in the future both Dartmouth and Princeton will use “all living alumni” as their common denominator. This “like with like” method of computation would allow an accurate comparison of giving between the College on the Hill and New Jersey’s finest institution of higher learning.


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