Emory Report
December 6, 2004
Volume 57, Number 14


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December 6 , 2004
Charitable excellence

john ingersoll is senior associate vice-president for major gifts in the office of development and university relations

It’s a shame that most Atlantans remain unaware of the extent of Emory’s community involvement. Our service at Grady Hospital alone should justify the University’s claim as a community resource without parallel. The second-largest indigent-care hospital in the nation could not exist without the Emory-trained doctors, nurses, interns and other medical professionals who make that valuable institution run.

Grady aside, every college, school, center and program in the University pursues community outreach and involvement. Few of our faculty members, staffers or students fail to render some kind of service to the metropolitan Atlanta region, under either the aegis of the University, their respective houses of worship, their civic organizations or as private citizens.

Add to all this the overlooked contribution Emory makes each year to Atlanta by producing well-educated graduates, many of whom remain in this friendly environment to teach and preach, practice medicine and law, fill other serving professions, and do business—an incalculable resource of brains, talent and willing hands.

Yet most Atlantans simply don’t see any of this. They catch a flash of Emory in a news story or even an occasional sports story, and if they require sophisticated medical attention, they may make their way into Druid Hills to find the University’s celebrated health sciences complex.

But the rest of the time, the public just doesn’t think of the University as an active player in the Atlanta community. It’s untrue, it’s unfair and it’s unfortunate.

We’re going to do something about it. We’re going to hire a top professional in marketing who will, for the first time, actively advance Emory’s profile and effectively publicize its enormous social, cultural, medical and intellectual impact on this city.

Marketing and branding are anathema to many in the academic community—but I have heard at least two Emory presidents lament that “perception lags behind reality.” Why? Because we haven’t marketed ourselves, explained ourselves or revealed ourselves in sufficient measure to our Atlanta hosts and neighbors.

My opening reference to Emory’s claim as a community resource without parallel, for example, is a rhetorical flourish. Emory doesn’t make any such claim. It is a comparatively quiet institution, modest without having anything to be modest about (reversing Winston Churchill’s gibe at Clement Attlee), and, until recently, not terribly exercised by the public’s benign neglect.

What does all this have to with EmoryGives, our annual campaign to enlist Emory’s 19,000 employees in a brief drive to benefit 485 local, national and international charities? Just this: EmoryGives is one of the University’s few highly visible ventures into the public’s awareness. We’re out there. We have a charge to keep, as the lucky employees of a great institution, to extend to the less fortunate members of our community, our nation and our world a measure of assistance, provided through reputable charities.

Even the best brand manager—the most expert marketer, the top public relations professional—cannot claim an achievement that does not exist. They cannot trumpet as “done” something that remains undone. And reaching our $900,000 goal remains undone. The best PR in the world can’t paper over a gap like that.

EmoryGives is a very public way for all faculty and staff to exhibit this University’s sincere dedication to the community in whose midst we have thrived for so long. Just as the best prayer is a good deed, so the best PR is an unmistakable act of service.

If you haven’t joined the campaign yet, you still have time before Dec. 31. Consider a gift through payroll deduction (you don’t see it, you don’t feel it, you don’t miss it). If every one of us deducted a mere dollar a week from our salaries and wages, we’d exceed the $47.37 average gift required of every one of our 19,000 co-workers to meet that goal. And most of you could do more.

Payroll deduction enables you to make a larger contribution over time than an outright gift. I’ve been using it for 18 years and haven’t gone broke yet. If you’re frustrated by too many clicks in online giving, contact your campaign coordinator (or me, at fingers@emory.edu), and we’ll send you good, old-fashioned paper on which you may make your commitment. Surely there is at least one cause among the 485 listed charities that resonates, and surely you can understand that such participation helps not only the beneficiary but you, the giver, and your professional home: Emory University.

This is a somewhat pragmatic approach to charity, tinged with a strain of marketing and PR. That’s partly because I interact with the public every day and am acutely aware of perceptions and misperceptions about us. And it’s partly because my First Person predecessors, Marion Dearing and Kent Alexander, have written beautifully in years past about the joys of service, of giving. Yet their touching and well-crafted pieces failed to move a majority of you in 2002 and 2003 to make a gift.

Thus, I present this appeal on behalf of the quest not merely to help others—but to burnish Emory’s own reputation and its standing in the community. Our results, our rate of participation, will be duly recorded in the press and seen by the civic and business leaders of this city, as well as the cursory newspaper reader.

Let us be excellent in charity as we are in every phase of Emory’s endeavor—the kind of contributing excellence President Jim Wagner has called for. Let the public learn that Emory is indeed involved, and that thousands of its employees have freely contributed upwards of a million dollars to hundreds of good causes. Let yourself be prompted by an early Emory exhortation, still found on the fireplace in Dobbs Hall:

Knowledge is worth nothing unless we do the good we know.