Showing Young Alumni How to Stay Connected
Alumni participation is an increasingly important metric for annual giving programs and a high priority for institutional leadership. Unfortunately, participation rates at educational institutions have declined over the past two decades. In fact, the national percentage of alumni who give back to their alma mater each year reached a high of 18 percent in the 1990s—and this figure currently stands at 8 percent.
Though there are numerous reasons for the decline, a drop in giving by young alumni has played a big part. For years, advancement programs have ignored recent graduates, excluding them from important alumni relations activities and fundraising appeals. Fresh out of school and just launching their careers, recent grads were simply not seen as strong donor prospects. Instead, institutions focused on older alumni who were likely to be settled in their professional lives and capable of supporting their schools at higher levels.
Many institutions are now realizing that the sooner alumni are engaged, the more likely they are to stay involved and give back. Additionally, research shows that a high number of major gift donors actually begin their philanthropic relationships within the first few years after graduation. But engaging young alumni doesn’t simply mean hitting them up with fundraising appeals. Finding softer ways to convey the importance of alumni involvement and the impact of philanthropy is critical, and showing them that there are a variety of ways to stay connected can set the stage for loyal support for years to come.
With recent graduates in mind, the annual giving team at Davidson College created a brochure mailing for young alumni that highlights the many opportunities for them to stay “plugged in.” It includes details about how to join an alumni chapter, take advantage of volunteer opportunities, and stay updated about school news through social media. It also highlights the impact of young alumni support with an infographic illustrating young alumni participation, giving totals, and philanthropic impact.
According to Caitlin James, Director of Annual Giving, Davidson’s goal was to appeal to the young alumni audience by using terms like “small change means big impact,” acknowledging that donors may be in different places in life, and it’s okay to make smaller gifts that fit with their current capacity.
The brochure was sent to all graduates of the past decade and was part of Davidson’s larger engagement strategy. Other educational efforts with young alumni in FY18 included a campus “lunch-and-learn” on giving to Davidson, ongoing senior class gift education efforts, and a “Young Alumni Philanthropy” webinar, which aimed to help young alumni make informed decisions about their giving to Davidson (and other organizations). All of these initiatives served to lay the groundwork for future fundraising appeals.
While they may not generate the most dollars, the first years after graduation are a critical time for defining the lifelong relationship that alumni will have with their alma maters. When students and young alumni understand the value of belonging to a community and are informed about the importance of giving back, they will continue to be connected, engaged, and supportive members of the alumni community for years to come.
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