Alumni Support Causes They Care About, but Most Feel Disconnected From Their Alma Maters

Sarah KleebergerSenior Vice President, Fundraising ConsultingMay 1, 2024
Blog on Alumni Giving: Image of volunteers picking up plastic bottles for recycling.
Three-quarters of alumni give to charitable causes or volunteer.

RNL recently sponsored a national alumni survey, partnering with fifteen institutions and advisor Howard Heevner on the project.

We asked alumni to share feedback about their philanthropic priorities, engagement preferences, and feelings of current connection to their alma mater. What did we learn? With responses from more than 20,000 alumni, the survey results paint a picture of the changing support base for higher education and confirm many of the trends you’ve likely seen firsthand.

Alumni are philanthropic. More than three-quarters give or volunteer in some way, and many do so regularly. Passion for the cause drives giving decisions, along with a clear understanding of impact. Unfortunately, something we anticipated hearing should give us pause as fundraisers: less than a quarter of alumni consider their alma mater a top giving priority.

Blog on Alumni Giving: stats showing 68% of alumni make charitable gifts to nonprofits and 51% volunteer.

“Connection” is the key to giving to their alma maters

As institutions consider a dwindling donor base, particularly among younger generations, we should ask: What can change this? Some answers might be found in the survey results. We heard that:

  • Alumni who are satisfied with their college experience are 4x more likely to give to their alma mater. So, continuing to provide quality education and cultivating a genuine sense of community is crucial during student years. The work of building affinity cannot rest solely on the shoulders of the advancement division post-graduation.
  • Those who feel “connection” to their alma mater are a whopping 23x more likely to give, telling us that engagement efforts after graduation have a massive impact on future generosity. It’s an area that requires investment.
  • Younger generations want to support student emergency funds, mental health services, DEI, and first-generation initiatives. Highlighting these areas is likely to inspire participation among undergraduates of the last decade—the cohort that reported feeling most “disconnected” from their institutions.

Drawing on our previous work with The Schuler Education Foundation, a key area of common ground among those who have seen success engaging younger generations is the ability to adapt to changing preferences, embrace both technology and peer (volunteer) outreach, and maximize the impact of giving opportunities like special targeted appeals and giving days. Building stronger alumni affinity, connection, and giving is possible if we are willing to innovate and listen to what alumni care about. But timing matters—we must act before alumni, including the next generation of major givers, move more permanently to other causes.

Share your insights in our focus groups

We invite you to download the full survey report and join us for a second phase of the project as we unpack the results. Howard Heever is facilitating small focus groups and 1:1 conversations to gather insights from leaders and practitioners like you as we consider our advancement work. Check out this link to learn more and sign up.

And if you’d like to discuss how to use the survey findings and put your fundraising on a more inclusive, sustainable path, please reach out. Experts here at RNL are ready to share strategies that can help.

Read the National Alumni Survey

Discover insights from more than 20,000 alumni about their preferences, behaviors, and expectations for giving. Find out:

  • How giving varies by alumni generation.
  • How student debt impacts giving.
  • How alumni connection and satisfaction changes based on race, gender, and graduation decade.

Read now

2024 National Alumni Survey

About the Author

Sarah Kleeberger

Sarah Kleeberger began her tenure with RNL in 2006 and during her time with the firm has worked with hundreds of institutions and organizations across the country to maximize constituent engagement and fundraising results. She...

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