Grab Grads Early to Keep Them Giving
One hot topic within educational fundraising programs is whether or not to expend precious staff time and financial resources on courting recent graduates and younger alumni, who often don’t have the capacity to give large gifts.
Development leadership often is hesitant to redirect efforts away from more immediately fruitful major and principal gifts to chase these smaller participation gifts. But if your program doesn’t make this initial investment in educating younger alumni about the importance of supporting your institution, then when they’re more financially stable, it might be too late. They already will have focused their philanthropic efforts somewhere else.
Much like many educational institutions, Rice University’s alumni population has been growing faster than the number of donors each year, due to the increased size of recent graduating classes. We surmised that by honing our solicitations to these younger classes, our participation rate within this segment would increase. Additionally, we believed that while emphasizing the amount of the gift was important to our steadfast donors, the thought of contributing $10,000 or even $1,000 was inconceivable to younger alumni. They were more likely to appreciate being recognized for their annual loyalty versus the amount of their contributions.
In our quest to stabilize and inch up our alumni participation rate, we didn’t want to negatively impact our strategy to increase unrestricted dollars raised for the university. So we conducted some research and analyzed our data for the 10 most recent graduating classes, which confirmed that this segment of our solicitable base made up 24 percent of our overall pool of prospects. Given that we have alumni still living who graduated in the 1920s, this was an astounding number. Even more daunting was that only 25 percent of this particular population was contributing annually, while our overall alumni participation rate held steady at 37 percent. The 10 youngest alumni classes essentially were lowering our overall participation rate by nearly 3 percentage points.