Fundraising Through the Maze
Getting a table in the cafeteria for a student group these days is like finding a paid internship: it ain’t easy. There are bake sales, candygrams, iPad raffles, and date auctions alongside BARBRI and Kaplan representatives slinging bar review courses, and it seems like every Thursday night is a different fundraiser at Lincoln Park.
But student groups rely on fundraising to support networking dinners, community outreach programs, legal trainings, and even international human rights projects. The Disaster Relief Network hosts frequent bar nights, raffles, and bake sales; Black Law Students Association (BLSA) sold candygrams for Valentine’s Day; Universal Justice, an international human rights student group, is holding a Date Auction on Feb. 21. The Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC) held a bake sale last Thursday, and participated in a stair climb for InMotion earlier this year.
For many of these groups, fundraising is a necessity. Fordham provides groups with a minimal amount of funding—often not enough to achieve the goals and objectives identified by the group’s leadership. DVAC leader Brian Bodansky said, “everything costs money. Everything from hiring attorneys to represent survivors of domestic violence in court to buying pots and pans for a family preparing to move out of a DV shelter costs money. By raising money for these groups, we are helping survivors to get back on their feet, and helping them get the representation they really need.”
In the past few years, student leaders have come together to raise money communally. Fordham’s biggest student fundraiser is the Fordham Student Sponsored Fellowship (FSSF) Auction, which raises over $100,000 each year. Public interest student groups have also begun the Fall Ball tradition, throwing a themed party during the fall semester and dividing the proceeds by hours worked. This year, the Fall Ball raised more than $10,000 for PIRC groups.
Tom Schoenherr, assistant dean of the Public Interest Resource Center, considers fundraising an essential part of community building at Fordham Law. He said the FSSF Auction is an example of how current students, alumni, professors, and friends come together to maximize the contributions by donating and bidding together. Schoenherr said that student-run fundraisers have enabled student groups to expand their service projects in a way “that would not be possible without the generosity and creative efforts of student groups and alumni.”
In addition to maintaining ties with alumni, fundraising can help students to develop skills that may be valuable after law school. Fundraising itself is a marketable skill, especially for those students considering careers in the nonprofit world. In addition, Director of Student Organizations and Publicity Hillary Exter said that there is value in “the creativity in planning the range of fundraising activities” and the agility necessary to respond to real-world crises and events. Exter said she is “always amazed by the incredible fundraising efforts by PIRC and SBA student groups” as they work to fulfill their missions. Dean Schoenherr echoed her sentiment, praising Fordham’s student leaders as “tremendously resourceful and creative.”
Despite the fact that so much of Fordham’s student output depends upon and revolves around these fundraising schemes, some students are critical of the administrative systems in place for dealing with the money raised. Student groups generally have at least two accounts, and PIRC-affiliated groups have three. Money allotted from the SBA at the beginning of the year goes in one account, and Supplemental Funding from the school goes in another. There is no protocol for depositing funds raised. Transferring money from one account to another can be Kafka-esque, the wait time for reimbursements is often a month or more, and it sometimes takes weeks to clear a single use of the corporate credit card.
Even administrators are sometimes confused about which funds go in which accounts, and how each account can be used. Disaster Relief Network student leader Alex Berke called the system “byzantine,” and said, “it is challenging to know where our organizations’ money is, how to access it, and most importantly, how to access it without having to wait four to six weeks for reimbursement,” especially in situations involving travel expenses.
Though reforms may be called for, fundraising is likely to remain an essential part of participating in a student group at Fordham Law. “It’s one of the most important things we do as an organization,” said Bodansky. Stop by the cafeteria on any given day, and you will likely see plenty of colorful posters, friendly faces, and outstretched hands.
–Kali Peterson, contributing writer
* A previous version of this article used the phrase “SBA credit card” and it has been corrected to “corporate credit card”