BBA Legacy Campaign should change its focus

Suchi Sundaram

“Our legacy belongs to us.” That is the phrase the BBA Legacy Program coined to describe its official student-giving program, which was spearheaded by a student-led committee in 2009 and which recently completed its spring campaign. The program still makes use of that phrase, which is supposed to inspire and foster a community of giving among business students. But has it?

The program claims that the ultimate mission of the legacy campaign is to increase student participation in the donation process. McCombs reasons that its alumni giving-rates, as a mainly undergraduate business school, are lower — at 8 percent — judging from other major graduate business schools such as Dartmouth or the University of Virginia. McCombs’ solution to this perceived problem was to encourage students to give to the school while still enrolled at UT, both to increase the school’s student-participation rate and in the hopes that those students who participated before graduation would feel more inspired to give as alumni. A great solution in theory, but practically there are many flaws.

Besides the initial flaw that McCombs compares its alumni giving-rate to those of successful MBA business schools with a pool of fewer, more affluent students, this program targets all business students. In the past two years as a business student, I have passed by the legacy campaign tables many times. The students sitting behind those tables, some of them my friends, would offer two-minute spiels about the importance of alumni giving to students, like me, who still have several years until we become alumni. Based on their logic, it would make more sense to expand the “Make a Mark” campaign, which motivates seniors to donate. Or, the campaign could target upperclassmen, rather than all undergraduate students, who have used many of the resources McCombs has provided and therefore have more reason to donate. The Legacy Campaign believes that increased participation of student donors will ultimately lead to higher alumni giving-rates, so concentrating on students that are closer to becoming alumni is more beneficial.

The second inherent flaw is the execution of such a program. In 2014, there was an event called “Midnight Munchies,” in which the committee members would offer food from Panera Bread in return for a suggested $1 donation at midnight in McCombs. Essentially, it was a bake sale fundraiser. But how does paying a dollar for a donut inspire me to donate as an alum? If I were hungry at midnight in the Reliant Productivity Center, I would be making that suggested donation out of hunger, not as a commitment to the campaign. Similarly, the Legacy Campaign were offering many T-shirts and tie pins with suggested donation amounts, but students were not donating to the campaign as much as buying a T-shirt.

But the biggest flaw with the program is the community that it doesn’t build. From my experience, there has never been an active McCombs community because of a lack of large-scale community-building events. The three events that bring students together are a freshman retreat, a legacy program and sporadic town halls. McCombs does not offer events designed to bring students together except through a giving campaign to increase alumni giving-rates and improve rankings. If McCombs truly wanted to improve rankings,it should offer more programs that benefit students.

I understand the importance of alumni giving-rates. As a future alum, I would be inspired to give back to a program that has helped me. Without question, I would give back to McCombs, but not because of a legacy campaign that offers me donuts at midnight. Rather, I would give back for programs such as Millennium Lab, the career services department or events that can build a better and more inclusive community among McCombs students. I would give back for a better executed student-led alumni giving-campaign that actually helps foster an already strong McCombs community. 

Rather than asking students to participate in this program, McCombs should increase the number of events that build a community for students and give them a reason to participate. Why not create a legacy that actually belongs to us?  

Sundaram is a business honors, finance and international relations sophomore from Austin.