Only about 8% of alumni give to their alma maters.
It’s a jarring and somewhat discouraging statistic for alumni relations departments and universities who place a lot of emphasis on strategies to increase giving... But it doesn’t have to be.
The driving forces and motivations behind a donor's decision to give, often start by prioritizing the experience around a fundamental concept – alumni engagement. Schools can increase philanthropic engagement by focusing on the journey from student to alumni to donor.
Universities ready to enhance their alumni engagement efforts should feel energized by the possibilities to change that initial statistic and turn participation into pledges. Let’s start by reviewing two of the fundamental modes of alumni engagement.
Experiential Engagement and Philanthropic Engagement
The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) identified four key modes of alumni engagement. While all four modes are important for universities to tap into when pursuing alumni donations, experiential engagement and philanthropic engagement pose the biggest opportunities to engage new alumni donors.
Experiential engagement centers around the actual experience alumni receive through virtual and in-person attendance at events. Experiential engagement can include:
- Alumni reunions
- Homecoming celebrations
- Memberships in school-sponsored associations
- Involvement in networking opportunities
- Seasonal attendance at sporting events or cultural programs
Philanthropic engagement focuses specifically on donors (both hard- and soft-donors).
- University endowments
Experiential engagement focuses on building long-term connection and nostalgia with a university while philanthropic engagement prioritizes securing recurring giving from alumni, which can be challenging to generate.
Inspiring More Pledges and University Gifts
When thinking about converting alumni participation to pledges, you need to consider long-term goals.
Schools often put heavier emphasis on unrestricted money or university gifts, versus the restricted/special interest giving that inspires most alumni. Sometimes universities pass on the opportunity to offer the latter because they want all the focus on the former. The 20+ year decline in alumni giving rate proves this approach wrong.
Instead, schools should view restricted giving as a bridge to an ask that aligns with an institutional priority. When someone makes a large donation to a specific program (like football, for example), staff can spur discussions around a major gift that puts a new wing in the library a few years later. It's more valuable to build a long-lasting philanthropic relationship on the donor's terms.
How to Successfully Convert Participation Into Pledges
"Celebrate your class reunion and donate to the class fund!" Have you heard this statement before? Unfortunately, these tactics overlook all the new ways to prospect and customize solicitations based on engagement, especially digital engagement. Here are a few tips to help successfully convert participation into pledges.
Connect Through Affinity
Affinity groups in schools aren't a new concept, but universities may not be giving them the attention they deserve. Participation rates in affinity events are typically higher than those organized by class or even major. When you engage alumni around their affinities, they feel a greater personal connection to the cause.
Make The Ask
If an alumnus takes action, universities should take action too - make the ask. If a school is using a BrightCrowd digital memory book, for example, and 500 people join it, all 500 should be asked to support that initiative or area of the school. Anywhere someone opts into an experience or communication speaks volumes, especially if the department is tracking analytics and knows how few people do historically.
To inspire more pledges, alumni relations campaigns should introduce many areas for alumni support. Sometimes alumni simply aren’t aware of the organization’s goals and funding needs. Offer several areas for alumni to provide university gifts to and let them pick what’s important to them. When alumni pledge money on their terms, they’re more likely to stay connected and continue to fund its results.
Prioritize Digital Connections
Digital events are too often an afterthought. Put digital and hybrid events at the forefront of the engagement strategy. If the university is hosting a virtual webinar with a faculty member who talks about their research, everyone who attends should get follow-up communication with an opportunity to support that research or the school where the research happens. If someone only opens emails about the basketball team, segment their communication to include emails about basketball instead of the hundreds of emails they've received about their former college or major that they haven't responded to.
The goal is to personalize your communications and approach to alumni based on the things they’ve indicated an interest in. They’re much more likely to, in turn, pledge money to those areas!
Using BrightCrowd to Expand Participation and Drive Future Pledges
BrightCrowd books excel at taking away the guesswork surrounding what alumni care about. When students join a digital book that represents their community, and then share their memories and current passions, they offer tremendous insight into how they want to be solicited or at least what types of communication have the best chance of inspiring university gifts. It’s a simple way to maximize voluntary participation and turn it into future alumni donations.
Using the various modes of alumni engagement, teams can tailor their outreach strategies and inspire stronger alumni participation that ultimately convert to more pledges.
Schedule a demo with BrightCrowd to learn more about the power of our digital memory books and experienced alumni relations team to transform your alumni engagement rate.