A common and misleading argument made by members of the Duke Student Government Executive Board against The 40 Percent Plan is that it will harm small groups. This objection makes no sense. Here are seven reasons why.
First, this argument assumes that the status quo is beneficial to small groups. That’s anything but true. Small groups across the spectrum currently face unnecessary difficulty getting funding from the Student Organization Finance Committee. Big groups are actually favored because they are better able to work the system—they’re more familiar with it. Not to mention that the process is anything but objective. Yes, DSG’s bail out of The Chanticleer is a prime example, but consider another: Last year, 52 chartered groups applied for an annual budget. The Duke Student Government was one of them. The 51 non-DSG groups received an average of only 27.72 percent of the money they requested. DSG received 93.11 percent of the money it requested (over $50,000). DSG gets its money, but the people don’t? Something’s not right here.
Second, remember what information students are going to have available to them when they log on to allocate their money. Groups will register ahead of time only if they want to receive money from the student allocation, and they will list how much money they anticipate needing for the year or semester. Groups will link to budget proposals showing how they will use the money, allowing students to be informed, conscientious donors. SOFC will be able to provide a “second-opinion” budget proposal, allowing students to compare the two budgets. Most importantly, students will be able to see in real-time how much money each group has already received. If a large group is siphoning off money, for whatever reason, students will see that and be able to act accordingly. This is an abundance of information available to students, allowing them to make informed decisions.
Third, small groups tend to need money the fastest. They have lower liquidity than large groups. Under the current SOFC process, it takes a week—at a minimum—to get funding. Usually it takes longer. And this is if SOFC and then DSG approve a small group’s funding at all! Under The 40 Percent Plan, small groups will know they have a pool of cash available to them to be used at a moments notice. If a new group knows it has $300 given to it by students, for example, it can spend it without having to go to the SOFC and wait through a laborious process to get money that’s still subject to a line-item veto.
Fourth, think about the incentive effects at play. Under The 40 Percent Plan student group leaders will be able to say, “If you donate money to our group, we will do x, y, z.” This helps students get to know what groups are about and what events or services the groups will provide. In other words, it informs students! And if a group doesn’t follow through, students wouldn’t give them money again. So it makes student leaders more responsive.
Then think about incentive effects from the student perspective. Since a student will be donating money to groups of his or her choice, he or she will feel personally invested and responsible in that group’s success. They will have a financial stake in the game that they didn’t have before. This counteracts student apathy and incentivizes group involvement.
How do these incentives benefit small groups specifically? Well, small groups tend to have much more committed and passionate members. These members will be willing to give a significant proportion of their 40 percent to help their group thrive. And since smaller groups are, well, small, it makes it easier for group leaders to communicate information to their members. Small groups are like local communities—you know your fellow members and you know your group leaders, oftentimes on a first name basis. In this context, it is easier for group leaders to effectively communicate and deliver results—because it’s more personal. And because small group leaders can better communicate and deliver results, it means students are more likely to donate money to them.
Fifth, The 40 Percent Plan benefits the most quintessential of small groups—new groups. New groups will benefit under The 40 Percent Plan because they tend to have very fervent members. Not only will these members give part of—or all of—their 40 percent to their new group, but they are more likely to be very active in recruiting. This greater passion for recruiting will lead to more dollars brought in. Additionally, consider the status quo. Under the current system, there is no incentive for a new group to eagerly and enthusiastically recruit new members. In fact, there aren’t many tangible benefits to recruiting new members at all under the status quo, other than boosting the new group’s listserv. Under The 40 Percent Plan, new groups are rewarded for being proactive.
New groups are also viewed more skeptically by the SOFC because they don’t have a track record of throwing events. This makes it all the more difficult for new groups to get money quickly, and new groups are oftentimes the groups that need money the fastest—they have the most need to rapidly establish their presence. The 40 Percent Plan allows new groups to use their money quicker, with fewer strings attached.
Sixth, the argument that students will only give money to large groups is like saying students will only join large groups. We know this isn’t true. I’ve talked to literally hundreds of people about this petition and never once has a single student expressed excitement at the prospect of donating to a large group. Every single time I am faced with an avalanche of responses about how students would like to give to their small groups. And this makes sense—most of us are most passionate about our small group involvement.
Seventh, let’s say that reasons one through six are all just wrong. Well, consider the fact that, under The 40 Percent Plan, about $490,000 will be left to the SOFC to support small groups. That’s more than Harvard’s entire budget for all of its groups.
For all these reasons, don’t buy the argument that The 40 Percent Plan harms small groups. It’s frankly just not true.
Daniel Strunk is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Thursday. Send Daniel a message on Twitter @DanielFStrunk.