Institutional Advancement for Millenial Alumni

cell_phoneI am a millennial who has worked in higher education for several years. I love my alma mater, and credit it with giving me an incredible variety of experiences in just four short years. I believe colleges and universities play an important role not just in individual’s lives, but also in energizing our communities and expanding our global perspectives.

So why is it that when my college calls me, I sigh and press the ignore button? It is easy to assume I avoid these fundraising calls because I belong to a generation of college graduates that carries more private loan debt than previous cohorts, or because of a stagnant economy that leaves many underemployed after graduation. But it may surprise you to learn that, despite these setbacks, Millenials may actually be more charitable than prior generations. The 2013 World Vision survey revealed that 56% of men 18-34 had given a charitable gift that year, versus just 36% of men ages 35 and above.

It seems that many institutions understand that there is a cultural shift in giving habits for our generation, and realize they must engage in development activities with us in a new way. I’m excited to see many new young alumni and GOLD (Graduates of the Last Decade) programs created to inspire new graduates’ pride in and loyalty to their college or university. It’s also encouraging to witness the proliferation of strictly online campaigns targeting this generation to give small, but important donations to specific scholarships and programs.

Building these relationships is not just in the interest of the institution, but in the graduate’s interest as well. Maintaining a connection with your college means that it will continue to inspire you to learn, grow, and achieve throughout your life. Not everyone will give, of course, but in my opinion colleges could increase their chances of winning Millenials’ charitable dollars by remembering a few simple guidelines:


1. Don’t let money be the first thing you ask for.

The very first phone call I received from my alma mater upon graduation was an ask for the annual fund. Most development offices already know that there should be many other interactions that occur before this phone call (also, only 2% of young donors prefer giving over the phone, but more on that later), though they may still struggle with implementing these messages.

A great way to give alumni a sense of ownership of the institution is to ask them for their advice. These young graduates are, at this point, experts on your institution, so ask for their opinions on your programs, student services, etc. Invite them to webinars hosted by your career center, ask them to volunteer at a local recruitment event, and just let them know that they are still important stakeholders. Remember that a sense of ownership precedes the desire to invest in the future of the school.


2. Let us give to specific projects and programs (the ones we care about).

When talking about the cultural shift in how and why Millenials give, I would argue that the major difference between the giving patterns of Millenials and Baby Boomers is Millenials are more interested in peer impact than legacy. A key motivator for giving is understanding and visualizing the impact that your gift will have. Rather than asking your young alumni to donate to the mysterious annual fund, present them with the option to ‘drill down’ their giving to specific programs (though Albright College has a great video called “How to Transform a Life” that confronts reasons for not giving head-on).

For example, I would be much more likely to donate to a fund earmarked for expansion of the entrepreneurship program I enjoyed so much as an undergraduate, or to purchase equipment for an intramural sport I participated in, because I can visualize the direct impact of my gift. To me, this is much more important than being recognized in the alumni publication or having my name on a brick.


3. Show me the money! Or at least where it’s going.

Send e-mail, a postcard, or better yet a handwritten thank you note directly from the people who my gift will benefit, and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. These ‘Thank You’ videos from Lewis & Clark are some of my favorites. It is more important to know that I enhanced a student’s college experience than it is to get a letter from the director of development, so make students your allies in this process. Those feel-good vibes I get from giving back multiply when someone shows me exactly what my gift paid for. As a bonus, involving current students in the process also gets them thinking about giving as alumni before they even graduate.


4. Get creative

What can colleges learn from Kickstarter? That crowd-funding works, particularly for young people. The University of California raised 1.3 million dollars for student scholarships with their Promise for Education campaign by creating a crowd-funding website with a twist, and asking some of their famous alumni and university presidents to lead the way. Middlebury College launched their MiddSTART program, an online network of microphilanthropy that supports Middlebury students, in 2013. Current students can post projects that need funding (everything from filming a documentary to starting a non-profit) and ask for small donations to bring their ventures to life. Making your campaign fun makes it shareable, and housing it online where alumni can tweet it or post it to Facebook in two milliseconds makes that sharing much more likely.

The two greatest assets of crowd-funding for the Millenial donor are immediacy and efficacy. According to the 2012 Millenial Impact Report, 75% of active donors aged 20-35 prefer to give online, and 42% like to “give in the moment.” Their three biggest pet peeves, however?

  1. When I don’t know how my gift will make a difference
  2. When they tell me how much to give
  3. When I get long letters in the mail.

Simply avoiding these three giving “pet peeves” will go a long way.

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