This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from Sam Huleatt, a recent MBA graduate, who blogs at LeveragingIdeas.com and serves on the Executive Alumni Council of Johns Hopkins University. Sam is co-founder of PrepNY, which builds customized social networks for private schools.
By Sam Huleatt
Why Young Alumni Don’t Give and A Reason Why They Might
Development officers everywhere are frustrated. Alumni giving, especially from recent graduates is at historic lows. Theoretically, the most impactful donations come from older, more established alumni making major gifts (in the million plus range). However, ‘giving’ as a percentage of total alumni population is an underappreciated metric. The higher the percentage of contributing alumni (no matter the amount), the more brand integrity a school has (and the better the ranking). Schools that have a large percentage of donating alumni, especially among younger alums, are encouraging a mindset that spans beyond money. A donation from a younger alumnus is a powerful statement that his or her experience really meant something to them. In addition to foreshadowing future giving (likely at a more substantial amount), the same alumni who donate money are the ones helping promote evangelize the school brand, network and help students with jobs and volunteer for development efforts.
The question is why giving among young alumni is at historic lows? Can it be reversed?
First, schools need to revaluate what constitutes “giving.” A recent graduate may not be able to afford an annual gift of $200, but if they help a rising senior find a job, isn’t that worth something? When was the last time a school published a list of alumni who helped find other alumni or students jobs over a given year? Don’t these people deserve credit? In fact, the trend among some of the wealthiest alumni is not to give money to their alma maters at all. Thus, providing recognition for alternative forms of giving to alumni of all ages will likely be an ongoing need.
Second, schools falsely assume alumni will ‘give for the sake of giving’. With the costs of private high schools and colleges accelerating, the last thing on recent graduates minds is spending more. Schools completely ignore the obvious from sales 101: providing value. Schools severely lack in offering any sort of post-graduation value. Well-endowed universities like Harvard, or elite high schools like Phillips Exeter are able to afford post-graduation value through cocktail hours, alumni social networks, clubs and networking. They understand that to make money, requires spending money. However, all schools can provide value at little cost by simply capitalizing on their most valuable asset: their network.
Third, many schools instantaneously loose their relevance upon a student’s graduation. This largely occurs because schools fail to embrace the communications mediums being used by their young alumni. Few persons in the 18-34 demographic see print materials (e.g. alumni magazines) as relevant forms of communication. Why wait four months for “class notes” when you could simply check Facebook to see what a friend is up to? Schools also fail in the obvious; making giving easy. Young alumni are not lazy, but they are creatures of habit. When someone becomes accustomed to paying bills online, buying groceries with a debit card and ordering movie tickets over a mobile phone, why would they change their comfort zone to give charitably? Though it sounds obvious, schools forget to offer payment options using the technology young persons are most accustomed to. It would likely shock most development officers as to the percentage of young alumni who don’t write checks, or own stamps.
In conclusion, schools need to find a new medium by which to appeal to their young alumni. They must also provide them with the incentives to ‘give’ in a number of different contexts. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this at low cost is by leveraging the social network that already exists among an active alumni base using technology. The popularity of online social networks happened for a reason – the ability to connect, find and access people and information 24/7 is a huge source of value. Fortunately for schools, the opportunity to take advantage of online social networking has never been better.