Dan Mackie: A Capital Campaign for Me and You

For the Valley News
Friday, May 11, 2018

Dartmouth College recently went public with a $3 billion capital campaign, potentially depositing lots more green into the Big Green. What a coincidence! It just so happens that I have set the same goal for my “$3 Billion Campaign for Dan Mackie,” which remains in the “utterly silent phase.”

According to our own Valley News, some 50 donors have chipped in a cool $1 million each to help nudge Dartmouth to the halfway mark. Oh, to have friends like these.

For my own campaign, I have been relying on a diverse revenue stream: proceeds from newspaper columns, loose change found in coat pockets, bottle deposits and, most promisingly, lottery tickets. I invested a couple bucks in a Powerball ticket in January, but narrowly missed out on the $560 million jackpot, which would have given my campaign a significant boost. A New Hampshire “mystery woman’’ instead claimed the prize, and I have seen no indication that she is my wife, Dede.

According to news reports, Dartmouth plans to “expand its financial aid program for students, support a team of research initiatives and help fund major upgrades to the west side of campus and the college’s arts district in downtown Hanover.” Notably, future Dartmouth students would graduate without any college loans of their own, making them the envy of UNH and UVM grads who have no such prospects.

The “$3 Billion Campaign for Dan Mackie” doesn’t have specific spending plans, perhaps a strategic blunder. Big donors might demand more details than those in the still-unpublished prospectus, which states that “The chief operating officer of the Dan Mackie Foundation will wing it, with allocations guided by his generous and until now under-funded heart.” I am as of yet offering no naming rights, although I could commit to wearing a Pew Charitable Trusts logo on my dinner jacket. For the right money, I might even consider an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation tattoo. It must be discrete though, like a PBS ad.

If my campaign succeeds, I pledge that I will first express hearty thanks to Lebanon, where I have now spent more than half my life. I will start by giving residents a one-year property tax holiday. Seriously. Even at a cost of over $100 million, such a gesture would be easy-peasy. A sweetener: Free Ice Cream Day Courtesy of the $3 Billion Campaign for Dan Mackie, at either one of the city’s well-loved summer ice cream stands. I’ll even throw in sprinkles.

I have sometimes thought that if I were wealthy, I would direct my charity beyond the usual suspects, the Harvards of this world. Its endowment stood at $37.1 billion in the fiscal year ended June 30 of last year, as reported by the school, which has grown so used to wealth that it did not even employ an exclamation point: $37.1 billion!

I would give my millions to places that would be startled, such as Stevens High School in Claremont, or Windsor High. What difference would, say, a $50 million enrichment fund make over 10 years? Wouldn’t it teach us something useful about money and education? Or don’t we want to know?

I might buy bikes for less-well-off kids, fleets of cars for the working poor, affordable housing for those without it. The possibilities are endless. Oh, be still my bleeding heart.

That’s not to say I could not be tempted by a vanity project. I could establish the Dan Mackie Institute for Institutional Advancement (The gift that keeps giving by endowing fundraisers!) at my alma mater, the University of Rhode Island. I would insist that they install a plaque with my name and the words, “Hah! How do you like me now!” (If you’ve been following current affairs, you’d know that crass is the new classy.)

There are other models for generosity. The little church we belong to has for some years tithed its pledged revenue; 10 percent is given to good causes locally, nationally and overseas. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if rich nonprofits were to tithe as an acknowledgement that others need it even more. In what golden age of generosity might that happen? On what planet?

You could argue that elite institutions do much to improve society, but I suspect they have become insular and stale as they train masterminds who goose the equity markets. What’s really ailing our society now? Among other things, there’s a desperate need to truly integrate our society and heal the racism many people would rather deny, and provide living-wage jobs for the working class and lower-middle class. Will university symposiums get us there?

I suppose it’s easy for me to daydream about giving away great wealth, since I am not overburdened by it. As of this writing, “The $3 Billion Campaign for Dan Mackie’’ is well short of its goal; we might as well round off the numbers and call it $3 billion short.

But as they say on public radio, “operators are standing by” — or they could be someday. Until then, we return to our regular economic realities.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.