Survey Suggests Colleges Could Better Engage Younger Alumni in Giving

Survey Suggests Colleges Could Better Engage Younger Alumni in Giving

While a majority of younger college graduates regularly volunteer or give to charity, they tend to focus those efforts on causes or organizations that are able to demonstrate impact, a report from RNL and the Schuler Education Foundation finds.

Based on survey responses from forty thousand alumni of thirty-six colleges who graduated between 2002 and 2017, the 2020 National Young Alumni Survey (11 pages, PDF) found that 87 percent of respondents volunteer for (58 percent) or give to (76 percent) a charitable cause or organization. Of those who made cash donations, 25 percent reported giving at least $1,000 in 2018 — including 3 percent who gave at least $10,000 — and 64 percent reported giving to their alma mater. Not surprisingly, higher education (37 percent) topped the list of issue areas and organization types supported by respondents, followed by social justice (32 percent), political organizations (30 percent), health care (29 percent), and women-focused nonprofits (26 percent). When asked which causes they aspired to support, however, more than half of those who give mentioned the environment (56 percent), social justice (53 percent), community development (51 percent), women-focused issues (51 percent), and K-12 education (49 percent).

When respondents who don't currently volunteer or give were asked what might motivate them to do so in the future, the two most common responses were seeing the direct impact of the cause on their family, friends, or themselves (44 percent), and a clear demonstration of the impact of their gift (42 percent). At the same time, barely one in ten respondents strongly agreed that their contribution to their alma mater makes a difference. The top areas which both current donors to their alma maters and non-donors expressed interest in supporting were scholarships and financial aid, a specific department or major, initiatives to assist first-generation students, and mental health services, with the institution's annual fund ranking as the lowest priority.

The survey also found that 64 percent of respondents reported being highly satisfied with their experience as students (72 percent of whom donated to their alma mater), and that 82 percent of respondents who give to their alma mater reported feeling "very connected" to their school. However, only 21 percent of all respondents felt "very connected" to their school, while 52 percent felt "somewhat connected." The report's authors also note that younger alumni are more likely to respond to a multi-channel approach that combines email, direct mail, social media, and text messaging.

"This research shows that young alumni — often dismissed as uninterested or unable to be philanthropic — are engaged, active donors," said Schuler Education Foundation executive director Jason Patenaude. "However, they are more interested in giving to causes they are passionate about, and they also want to see the impact of their gifts."

"These findings show more than ever that colleges and universities need to adapt their fundraising to the expectations and aspirations of young alumni," said RNL president and CEO Sumit Nijhawan. "Campuses need to identify the passions of their recent graduates, make it easy for them to give to the areas they care most about, and show the impact of gifts so young donors grow into lifelong givers."

"2020 National Young Alumni Survey." RNL and Schuler Education Foundation Report 03/05/2020. "New Report Finds Nearly 9 Out of 10 Young Alumni Engage in Philanthropic Activity." RNL Press Release 03/05/2020.