March 8, 2012

Filthy/Gorgeous: Party, But for Party’s Sake

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Every year there is invariably an Op-Ed piece written in The Sun suggesting that Filthy/Gorgeous is a morally inappropriate event. This is not that Op-Ed piece. Whatever the merits for or against Filthy/Gorgeous, I believe the real issue for discussion is its implications for the charity it benefits. Filthy/Gorgeous is extremely inefficient as a charitable fundraiser. According to the Haven budget released by the S.A., it raises approximately $2,000 for charity, on a budget of $27,000 — nearly all of which comes from the Student Activity Fund. Using that ratio, Filthy/Gorgeous would be the worst charity in the US, as ranked by Charity Navigator.The expenditure on Filthy/Gorgeous is extravagant — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, an expensive party can be easily justified for student life, like Slope Day. But if Filthy/Gorgeous can be justified like Slope Day, it should stand on its merits as a party and not by co-opting the mantle of philanthropy. Do we really need to allocate $4,000 of the student’s money to fly in performers that cost $10,000, when Cornell’s campus to campus bus service costs only a few hundred dollars? Real (i.e. efficient) philanthropy happens at Cornell, and although not as glamorous, it accomplishes much more for charitable organizations. Some hard numbers can help. For example, a recent charity dinner between seven Greek houses brought in over $5,400 in revenue on $1,000 of costs — netting $4,400 for charity. That’s 220 percent of the Filthy/Gorgeous donation on 20 percent of the total budget and at four percent of the cost. And on an annual basis, the event could prepay all its expenses for the coming year, set aside a reserve for emergencies and still make sizable donations.To make matters worse, charity events like that dinner which are not reliant on outside funds, and events that have much better revenue-to-donation ratios must compete with Filthy/Gorgeous for student mindshare as “philanthropic activities.” We all know that attention and mindshare are sometimes the most valuable currency in over scheduled student communities. And to that end, Filthy/Gorgeous paints an unfair picture of what a charity event looks like. The reality is that real (i.e. effective) philanthropy is not nearly as self-indulgent.If our real concern is to create a sustainable source of donations for charities, we should focus on creating sustainable programs at Cornell. Sustainable meaning that their existence in any year is not dependent on external funding grants. These programs have the benefit that any funding enhancement provided by the University will almost always translate into a dollar-for-dollar increase — but that in any given year, if their external funding vanishes, the charitable group still gets a donation. What happens if Filthy/Gorgeous is the target of cost-cutting measures? A charity goes without. That is my main concern.To the extent that it is desirable to earmark a portion of the Student Activity Fund for charitable works, we should hold those efforts accountable to the same metrics and best practices of charities in the real world. If we want to act like adults, to be treated like adults, claim (like adults) that we’re doing charity, we should be ready to be held accountable just like real-world charities are. Charitable work is not some panacea to assuage whatever guilt comes with going to a nice party shrouded within the cocoon of a protective ivory tower. Filthy/Gorgeous is a controversial event — and much like Sex.Power.God at Brown, it may someday draw enough attention to itself that it will have to fundamentally change. But it is disingenuous to think that coating an otherwise extravagant party in a patina of charity and selflessness will stop that day from coming or justify an otherwise unjustifiable party — meanwhile, much more effective philanthropic endeavors go unnoticed and unfunded.

Sean Donegan is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at swd33@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Sean Donegan