Responding to the RNL National Alumni Survey in a Way That Makes Sense for You

Courtney PourciauxSenior ConsultantJune 6, 2024

You’ve got the data, now what?

What do you get when you combine the expertise of two nonprofit industry veterans (Howard Heevner of the University of California, Berkeley, and RNL’s Sarah Kleeberger), university partners who are eager to learn about their constituents, and responses to key questions from more than 20,000 alumni across the country? The answer: A data set that both diagnoses the current state of philanthropy and predicts future trends that thoughtful fundraising shops can anticipate as we move into a new fiscal year.

Of course, many of the findings of the RNL National Alumni Survey will not be surprising to anyone who has been following trends in the nonprofit sector over the past decade, but some of the “extremes” we’ve seen in the media hinting at declining donations and increasingly disconnected alumni seem to have ticked up significantly.

Now that you have the data, know a bit more about the outlook of our industry, and have received recommendations from two nonprofit experts, how can you take action right away to incorporate some of the suggested techniques for addressing downward trends among your donor base? Let’s take a look at how some RNL partner institutions have already been working to combat trends reported in the 2024 National Alumni Survey.

Create opportunities for purpose-driven giving on campus

“It’s time to stop telling our alumni how to give and embrace their personal passions” -Howard Heevner

The data is clear—younger generations are more inspired by, and therefore more likely to give to, cause-based fundraising campaigns that touch on timely needs such as student emergency support, first-gen initiatives, and mental health services. Seventy-seven percent of all alumni surveyed responded that they donate because they care deeply about the cause, with this number jumping to 81 percent for young alumni. Logic would dictate that, if we know alumni are more likely to give to cause-based campaigns that interest them and we know what young alumni are passionate about, we should be focusing on creating opportunities for them to identify their passion areas on campus.

Many of the RNL ScaleFunder partners who have embraced a Crowdfunding Cycles model have done so with hopes of engaging students and young alumni as donors by encouraging them to “give to what they know.” We know that young alumni are feeling burdened by student debt, so it is even more important to provide them with clear opportunities to make actionable change so that they can see the real value and impact they can make by giving back at any level they are able. Check out this blog written by longtime RNL ScaleFunder partner Jon Gregory at Cornell University, where he talks about using the platform “to do the greatest good.”

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

Inspire connection and storytelling to reach your most philanthropic alumni

Older generations are giving larger gifts. Our findings indicate that, though they only make up 17 percent of alumni populations, the Silent and Boomer generations donated 64 percent of dollars received by universities from their alumni last year. Leaning into the nostalgia factor, encouraging alumni to reminisce about their time on campus, and asking for donors to share stories of why they give are three tactics that help to better engage older alumni and donors, and meet them where they are. RNL clients Wittenberg University took this idea and ran with it for their recent “Give Like Karen” campaign. Consider adopting the retro or throwback style of solicitation in the coming fiscal year to inspire storytelling and reminiscing about the golden days on campus.

Wittenberg University "Give Like a Karen" fundraising campaign
Wittenberg University "Give Like a Karen" fundraising campaign

Wittenberg University’s “Give Like Karen” campaign used inspired storytelling and a retro design to engage alumni

Provide networking opportunities to alumni groups

Survey responses indicate that women would be more likely to engage with their alma maters if there were additional networking opportunities, they were invited to mentor current students or recent graduates, or they were engaged as volunteers. All three of those indicators were higher for women than the average of all surveyed alumni. To put it simply- move beyond fundraising and create a real relationship-focused advancement shop by providing opportunities of connection beyond sharing gifts of treasure- time and talent matter, too. One RNL client, Missouri State University, recently used their RNL ScaleFunder Giving Day to highlight their newly formed organization for Women In Philanthropy, Bears WIN organization.

Donor societies and networking opportunities make a difference

Connection matters, and you should be doing everything you can to foster genuine connection between alumni, current students, and your institution. We found that connected alumni, meaning those who regularly take advantage of networking, volunteering, and mentoring opportunities, are 23 times more likely to give than those who are not actively taking steps to stay connected with their alma mater. In order for alumni to actively take those steps, opportunities have to be made available and obvious to them.

RNL ScaleFunder clients at The University of Mary Washington have leveraged their Crowdfunding site to provide an easy opportunity for members of young alumni and reunion class years to support the causes they care about and to learn more about donor society membership and other ways to give (here’s one example for the class of 1969). Each page has a custom donor wall and interactive donor heat map that shows the name and state of each donor to the project.

Keep exploring how you can engage your alumni and tap into their philanthropic spirit

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read the 2024 National Alumni Survey as well as previous blogs from Howard Heevner and Sarah Kleeberger about the results.

We also will have a dedicated track on fundraising at the 2024 RNL National Conference in Dallas, July 23-25. Our fundraising sessions will dive into donor engagement, omnichannel outreach, and fundraising strategies that are helping institutions reach their goals. Plus we will also have a track on artificial intelligence that will illustrate the exciting new tools fundraising have at their disposal to reach more alumni and donors as well as work with greater efficiency than ever. Learn more about the sessions, and I hope you’ll join us in Dallas this July.

About the Author

Courtney provides strategic leadership for RNL digital giving partners, maximizing their success with crowdfunding, giving days, and our digital giving solutions. Courtney provides support for RNL Digital Giving powered by ScaleFunder, including giving days and...

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