Wednesday, May 23

Letter to the Editor: Administrative fees on contributions to UCLA are realistic, not harmful

With regard to Sandra Wenceslao’s column “UCLA’s fee on contributions can deter potential donors, harm students,” while I share her desire for donations to be donated, fully, to intended causes, her views read naively. It’s simply not a reality.

Nonprofit entities do not abandon business considerations simply because they eschew profits. Employees need to be paid; utilities must be managed. Imagine if Starbucks gave away $3.25 worth of coffee to every patron: that would equal approximately a $42 million loss, daily. The UCLA Foundation, I assume, is similarly aware of the arithmetic when small sums add up to large ones.

One instance of $3.25 doesn’t matter, but thousands of them do. To write off a thousand fees of $3.25 means slashing $3,250 from someone’s operating budget. Unless everyone at the UCLA Foundation is willing to work for free and will be given free supplies, office space and electricity, operating costs are taken from donations. Don’t forget, the university only receives so many $1.5 million gifts; it is far more likely to solicit smaller contributions whose totality rivals a large donation.

And 6.5 percent is rather low as use-fees go; in my experience, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation of Dance Marathon takes 11.5 percent, while Planned Parenthood takes 25.3 percent – and I wholeheartedly donate to both of these organizations. The people whose salaries are paid by these fees often raise the very money those programs receive in turn, which yields a positive return on investment.

Furthermore, I don’t see how it’s relevant to attack the UCLA Foundation for funding procedures dictated by the Office of Contract and Grant Administration. It’s sloppy rhetoric, and implies that being angry with a 35 percent fee over one issue should piggyback onto the entirely reasonable 6.5 percent charge by another.

In short, it would be wonderful if, when people donated to a charity, all proceeds benefited the intended cause, but that’s simply not the case. While it’s true that there exists a sizable number of charities that use fees for personal gain rather than helping their intended targets, Wenceslao’s article is disingenuous and harmful.

Rather than have an honest discussion that weighs the pros and cons of administrative fees, it makes a generalization that implies many fees are bad or unnecessary carte blanche. If you want to scare potential donors away and in return deny students help, then congratulations: Stoking unnecessary fears about financial necessity is how you do it.

Robby Nadler graduated from UCLA in 2008.

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