Tuesday, May 22

Sandra Wenceslao: UCLA’s fee on contributions can deter potential donors, harm students

UCLA charges a one-time administrative fee for organizations that donate to the UCLA Foundation. This fee can deter donors from giving in the first place and should be more flexible.(Habeba Mostafa/Daily Bruin)

UCLA charges a one-time administrative fee for organizations that donate to the UCLA Foundation. This fee can deter donors from giving in the first place and should be more flexible.(Habeba Mostafa/Daily Bruin)

Any type of aid, no matter how small , is usually welcomed with open arms – and pockets. Unless, of course, you’re UCLA.

Potential donors to the UCLA Foundation, the organization which manages and directs gifts to the university, face a one-time only fee of 6.5 percent taken from the grant.

The fee provides support for UCLA’s administrative operations. According to UCLA spokesperson Rebecca Kendall, most universities and other nonprofit organizations require such a one-time administrative fee.

Still, the applied fee can discourage potential donors from donating to UCLA programs and organizations, and in turn also harm UCLA students.

UCLA can make full use of the small donations by exempting donations and grants of less than $5,000 from the administrative fee. Taking 6.5 percent from a $5,000 donation would amount to a $325 fee, which is small compared to other fees UCLA would receive through other donations, like the $1.5 million donation from the Lowell Milken Family Foundation.

Exempting the fee would mean much more to the donors who are giving their money. Fee exemptions on small donations would allow every dollar to support the donor’s intended cause and minimize a rule that deters donors from giving in the first place.

We’ve seen the negative effect of these fees on recent donations. The Westwood Neighborhood Council recently submitted a grant application to the UCLA Foundation to donate $5,000 for the Community Programs Office Food Closet. As a result of the 6.5 percent fee, CPO would miss out on nearly $325 worth of food for hungry students.

It’s important to note this is after the council first tried to make the donation through UCLA’s Office of Contract and Grant Administration, which processes research grants and contracts. If the grant had successfully passed, the office would have earmarked a whopping 35 percent of the grant, or $1,750, for UCLA’s overall operations.

Luckily for WWNC, the grant qualified as a gift, not a research grant, and this allows it to go through the UCLA Foundation, Kendall said. But while students and the council can certainly rejoice about this, CPO will still not enjoy the donation’s full worth.

It’s clear the fee is simply unnecessary in other instances – especially for very small donations. The lowest donation option the UCLA Foundation offers is $50. A 6.5 percent fee on this donation would amount to $3.25.

It’s safe to say an extra three bucks won’t make make a huge dent in UCLA’s massive $6.7 billion budget. However, that money can help the CPO Food Closet buy up to three more canned food items that will end up in the hands of a UCLA student in need.

[Related: WWNC encounters obstacles in donating to CPO food closet]

Fees can make potential donors hesitant because portions of their donations wouldn’t go to their intended recipients. Initially, the WWNC tabled the decision on whether to submit the donation or not because of the large fee from UCLA’s Office of Contract and Grant Administration.

This is what makes these fees harmful. Potential donors may avoid giving when they’re trying to directly help students, only to find their money directed elsewhere. Exemptions can attract a larger number of donations and would create a fee structure less likely to deter donors from making a donation in the first place.

So far, the WWNC’s donation has been the only one whose tabling has garnered a Daily Bruin headline – but the university shouldn’t count on making this a regular occurrence.

Although a one-time 6.5 percent fee may seem like a fairly small amount to many and even a necessary sacrifice to others, the administration will have many other opportunities to receive support. Community causes need these grants, and every dollar counts.

The CPO Food Closet uses its funds to sustain the program, maintain the facility’s daily operation and purchase food and toiletries. Larger, more substantial donations will come along, whether they be through the UCLA Foundation or UCLA’s Office of Contract and Grant Administration, that would produce more substantial fees that can aid the UCLA administration more than a small fee.

And while the small fee applied to donations might not seem like a big deal, it can make a difference in the program to which it was originally directed. The most $3.25 can do is buy some office supplies. However, seeing any type of fee applied to grants and donations can make potential donors wonder if the money is better suited elsewhere. Fee exemptions would show that UCLA takes care of its community by putting the community above its own benefit.

Donating should be an easy decision. After all, it doesn’t make sense for UCLA to charge donors for their goodwill. In fact, UCLA should do everything possible to receive grants and donations in order to aid its students. Yes, even if that means allowing money to go directly to the donor’s intended programs.

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Opinion columnist

Sandra Wenceslao is an opinion columnist.

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