Developing future alumni donors

A few years ago, at a volunteer leadership workshop for alumni staff, a college senior stunned attendees by asking why her college needed philanthropic support. Didn’t tuition cover all college expenses?

In his article, “Cultivating Your Crop” in the July/August 2009 issue of CASE Currents, Bruce R. McClintock uses this story to illustrate the gap in student/alumni knowledge regarding college philanthropy. While alumni relations offices assume that current students understand why the money is needed and where it goes, that is clearly not the case.

According to McClintock, “The percentage of alumni who support their alma maters has decreased over the past 15 years in every sector of U.S. education: independent schools, liberal arts colleges, and public and private research universities … And the trend is heading downward.”

The key to subverting this trend, he says, is to cultivate alumni while they are still students, to educate them about the role of philanthropy (and explain that tuition doesn’t cover all expenses). “They need to be educated about their lifelong affiliation with the institution,” he writes, “and the role they will play in the life and perpetuation of the institution.”

In addition to reaching out to donors (using mission-driven fundraising tactics), independent schools, colleges and universities must “reach in,” building student awareness of the benefits of philanthropy in their daily college experience.

Think creatively about the concrete ways in which your institution can build this awareness, making the role of philanthropy clear to students. To reach students where they live, we recently recommended the following to one of our college clients:

  • Drape a banner with annual fund colors and graphics over a campus building, illustrating that it was the fund that enabled the construction of the building
  • Spray paint half of the football field with annual fund colors and graphics, again to illustrate the fund’s role in supporting and maintaining a large percentage of the field and campus
  • Create T-shirts for students that list the areas of college life supported by the fund
  • Create coasters or table tents for the dining hall, listing the areas that the fund supports
  • On the first day of classes, black out a number of courses on each student’s schedule and include a note, revealing what has been made possible by the annual fund

What has your institution done to build awareness and engage students in philanthropy on campus?

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