Magazine article University Business

Honoring Donors with Egos: Risky Business. (Controversy)

Magazine article University Business

Honoring Donors with Egos: Risky Business. (Controversy)

Article excerpt

THE RELENTLESS NEED TO RAISE MONEY drives institutions to identify those individuals with great wealth who may provide financial support. Once identified, the question is: What will it take to convince those individuals to write the check or change their will?

Regrettably, one approach is to utilize honorary degrees, graduation speaking opportunities, and other highly publicized public appearances to appeal to the egos of charismatic or high potential donors--a strategy that carries great risk. In their rush to meet short-term fundraising goals, institutions often overlook the fact that for some types of individuals, fame--as well as fortune--can be fleeting. This risk comes not from development officers or university presidents fawning over some larger-than-life individual in private. It comes when administrators arrange for a very public display of the honors they are bestowing, hoping to glorify both the institution and the donor. This simple act may provide the basis for acute discomfort at a later date.

Such was the case when in spring 2000, an aspiring university featured L. Dennis Kozlowski as a speaker in its newly formed Leaders of Conscience Speaker Series, after awarding him an honorary degree. Kozlowski had been widely covered in the press as a charismatic and visionary business leader. In its national press release, the school trumpeted that speakers such as Kozlowski were "exceptional individuals who are representative of the development of intellect and character of which (our students) strive to emulate." After the speech, it publicized his $1.2 million gift to the university, the largest in the school's history. The gift inspired other schools to also honor Kozlowski. In spring 2001, another school celebrated him as a guest speaker in its Giants of Finance Speaker Series. According to the PR newsletter, Kozlowski's advice to students included, "Make your shareholders a small fortune, but don't do it by starting with a large one."

Unfortunately for these schools, by 2002, Kozlowski was pilloried in the press for a lack of conscience, and charged in court with sates-tax violations, conspiracy, tampering with physical evidence, and falsifying business records. It appeared that, indeed, he had started with a company's large fortune and diverted portions of it for his own welfare instead of the shareholders'.

And in spring 2000, an East Coast university announced its graduation speaker was Gary Winnick, another highly visible business leader, and with great fanfare awarded him an honorary degree. …

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