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Straight Talk from Al Jacobs





Consider the following news item: “Survey Reveals Students’ Dishonesty.” For those of you who imagined otherwise, high-school-aged youths will shoplift from a store or cheat on an exam. It’s official now. A nonprofit foundation based in Los Angeles, surveyed 29,760 students at 100 randomly chosen high schools throughout the nation. Within the prior year, thirty percent acknowledged having stolen from a store while sixty-four percent admitted to cheating on a test. Understandably, all were queried anonymously. The institute’s founder and president expressed dismay at the findings.


During the years I taught chemistry at a community college, no instructor in my department failed to recognize, given an opportunity, students will game the system. We generally concluded that about a fourth of students will cheat without provocation, a full half if an opportunity presents itself, with the remainder refusing to participate. We never knew what portion of the “honest” students abstained simply out of fear of being caught.


But perhaps most disconcerting of all is that the foundation, immersed in the intricacies of ethics for several decades, was perturbed by the realization that human beings continue to behave as they have for thousands of years. Does anyone with the slightest perception of human nature doubt that deceptiveness and chicanery are built-in instincts? If you witnessed election results over the years, you’ve concluded you can retain no uncertainty as to the basic dishonesty of the human race and its institutions.


This gets us into the realm of nonprofit foundations. Evidently this survey of the obvious, and its publicized results, serves a purpose. It attracts attention. And attention is what nonprofits must attract. A letter appearing on the institute’s website, explains it clearly: “… the simple fact is we are a nonprofit organization and we need financial support to keep doing all that we are. Sadly, our needs are greater than ever in these economic times where many sources of our income are drying up.” The final sentence concisely sums it up: “This is not intended to make anyone feel guilty, but we do want to be frank about our need and direct my request that you include our Institute as one of the organizations you support in your year-end giving.”


Let me add a final thought. Operating a charity is a tough racket. Choosing the ones to which you will contribute can be even tougher. Be selective.




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