Ben Stein wonders (link) , in today's Times, why Yale University keeps asking him for money (and why he gives it to them.) Last year, Yale earned about $3 billion on their endowment doing deals that you and I could never do. In the face of that sort of return, do the $3,000 alumni checks really matter?
Michael Motta answered that question for me when he quoted Ben Franklin in an email today. "he that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than whom you yourself have obliged".
In other words, Yale wants Ben Stein's money so that Ben will be inclined to do the things that Yale really wants: send over great students, hire graduates, talk up the school and maintain its place in the pantheon of liberal arts colleges. And donors are far more likely to do that than disconnected alum.
It's not always about giving. Yale wins by taking.