At the start of this school year I volunteered to be the faculty representative for the Annual Fund drive at school. I respect our development director, and we've had somewhat low faculty participation in the annual fund in recent years (at least compared to our peer schools), and I was interested in helping out.
I wanted to do this because when I was first working at St. Martyr's, I was actually quite offended to be asked to give money in the annual fund. Here I was, working my ass off and making a truly pathetic little salary (which was especially true in my first couple of years there), and they were asking me to give money back?! I don't think so! And it wasn't until my department chair was the faculty representative for St. Martyr's annual fund and gave a convincing spiel that I completely changed my thinking; his argument was that everone understood that we had little money, and what was important was not how much faculty members gave but rather how many gave. He said that the faculty participation number was seen as evidence of our commitment to the school -- it was one way of measuring the health and vitality of the institution -- and that the development office took this number to people who actually had REAL money and got them to give more. So his big pitch was that everyone should give only $5 but that we should aim for 100% participation, and that the payoff on our tiny investment could be really significant and make our working conditions much better.
I found this an incredibly compelling argument, and it turned my own thinking around, and so my spiel to the faculty was going to be pretty much a blatant plagiarism of his. And I said as much to the development director when I was volunteering to take on this role back in August, and she was all for it.
Unfortunately, in the "no good deed goes unpunished" category, my involvement has been a distinctly unpleasant experience so far. Mostly this is because I'm working directly not with the development director but with the annual fund director, whom I find to be demonstrably not very bright and who clearly thinks I'm a pretty horrible human being. So that's fun.
Despite the small size of our school, I had literally never met the annual fund director before this winter; there are a few positions in the business side of the school that are essentially rotating positions for pretty young blonde women barely out of college who come in for a year or so and then leave, and she is one of them. They all kind of look the same, and most faculty will confess, only somewhat shamefacedly, that we don't even bother to learn their names because they'll be replaced by another one pretty soon. (And actually it was pretty clear at our meeting yesterday that she is pregnant, so maybe she'll be cycling right on out of the job by next year and will be replaced by some other young woman.)
Anyway, it became clear at our first meeting, back in December, that she was horrified by my crass, materialistic argument for faculty participation in the annual fund, and that we should all be giving because FGS is more than just a job and that we all love it so much that we should just want to give out of the goodness of our hearts and our love for the school. And she was completely backed up in this by this year's staff representative for the annual fund, a very sweet man who works in the gym and lives on campus. He really does love the school; I think it's the only place in the U.S. where his wife has ever lived (they immigrated from Africa), and both of his children have been born here, and so FGS is truly his home and he gives to the Annual Fund joyfully and generously, and I absolutely admire him and his dedication to the school.
... which doesn't mean that I or most of the faculty are in the same position. You know how much I love my job, and I am certainly dedicated to FGS, but I finally lost my temper at both of them insisting that everyone should give because FGS isn't really a job, it's a relationship and our home. In the first place, more than half of us don't live on campus, which means that we have other homes. Plus, I don't think that saying that something is my job is in any way denigrating it, and I resent being implicitly told that careers aren't that meaningful or important. At one point I snapped, "Here's how I know that FGS is in fact a job: If they stopped paying me, I would stop coming into work." I also pointed out that if we frame the annual fund solely as charity to a worthy cause, then there are many other causes that faculty members might find far worthier -- environmental causes, educational institutions that help more students in need than we do, etc. (You should have seen the look on their faces when I suggested that other schools might be worthier recipients!) But if we framed this as a very small investment in our workplace, one that would pay off in significant dividends, then most folks would probably be willing to give $5. And they were horrified, absolutely shocked that I was such an awful person.
I am not sure I can convey exactly how much they both treated me like I was a pariah, a disgusting person who probably doesn't belong at FGS, where we try to hire good rather than bad people -- all of this framed in polite tones, of course; I was the only one who raised my voice during the conversation, which probably made me seem all the worse a human being -- but I can say this: I was so angry and upset after that first meeting that I was literally shaking when I walked out. It was a bad scene.
The sweet gym guy kind of tried to make up with me a few days later, along the lines of "wasn't that an interesting exchange of ideas we had?" I still couldn't really talk about the meeting at that point, but I smiled and I hope indicated by my silence that we could treat this as water under the bridge. I mean, we've never been good friends anyway -- we just don't have that much in common -- but we have worked together on occasion when I have taught his advisees, and who needs more conflict?
I did seriously consider just backing out of the whole thing and not being the faculty representative after all, but I finally decided that it was all a very minor commitment and that I would mostly just try to go along to get along (it's not like I even remember who the past faculty representatives have been, so clearly this is not an effort to which folks try to give their individual stamp) and then never do anything with the development office again.
I got the chance to put this decision into action just last week when the annual fund director sent an email to me to send out to the faculty; I suggested a couple of changes along the lines of my pragmatic thinking, she instead changed the memo to be more along her lines of idealistic thinking, and I just sighed and sent it as she wrote it, figuring "who cares? no one's really going to read it anyway."
But on Tuesday I have to go give a spiel to the middle school faculty, and so I met with the annual fund director yesterday for a quick discussion about what I'm supposed to say. And she gave me talking points and pretty much warned me to stay on script and emphasize only the things that she'd given me to say. So now I have a choice to make: Do I, standing before people that I know quite well, say what she wants me to say or what I want to say? This feels different from the email, because people will actually listen to what I say when I am standing before them. And the annual fund director will be there at the meeting, no doubt glaring at me if I do my pragmatic spiel rather than her idealistic spiel. So I have a decision to make between now and then.
I really do understand the need for a fund drive to have a consistent message. I just think that it's silly to do the same thing you've always done and expect different results, and our "give because you love FGS and so it's the best place for your charitable donations" message has resulted in fairly low participation in past years, so why not try something new this year? But it is also true that I'm not the one whose job it is to coordinate this annual fund, and I'm just supposed to be a mouthpiece; but isn't the whole point of having a faculty representative that the person is speaking authentically to a community he or she is part of?
Sigh. What to do, what to do?