March (Alumni Giving) Madness – Final Results

Brian Gawor

Vice President of Research

April 5, 2017

We have the winners of the 2017 March (Alumni Giving) Madness tournament!

This tournament is our fun way to determine the top alumni giving institutions for higher education fundraising. We took the institutions in the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments, analyzed their alumni giving statistics, and determined the two top institutions for alumni giving.

2017 March (Alumni Giving) Madness final bracket

2017 top alumni giving institutions

Click to expand

You can read about the methodology we’re using to answer the question this year in our first post.  You can also check the early round action as we got down to the final eight teams:

And the winners are…

Men’s Bracket: Northwestern University. Knocking out competitors with a combination of strong donor growth and very generous alumni, NU was a powerhouse in this year’s tournament. Our refs also rated Northwestern’s giving portals very highly. You can check out some of the best student campaigns in the nation at Catalyzer, NU’s crowdfunding portal:

Women’s Bracket: University of Pennsylvania. With one of the highest alumni participation stats in the tournament, Penn boosted wins with great donor growth and incredibly high giving per living alumnus. Donor growth and consistency in young alumni giving have been real strengths at Penn. A quick review of their alumni web portal shows that Penn is offering an incredible array of engaging opportunities for alumni to stay involved and give easily, and it showed in this year’s tournament.

All this year’s tournament participants are winners. As we approached the final bracket stages we were just amazed at some of the accomplishments of these institutions in alumni engagement and donor growth. All participants in this year’s tournaments should be congratulated. The generosity of their alumni is simply mind-blowing, with over $50 million given by alumni to these institutions in 2016.

Get the E-Book

Check out all the results, with expanded commentary on the stats, in our March (Alumni Giving) Madness e-book. Download your copy here.

2017 (Alumni Giving) Madness commentary:

Alumni participation continues to decline: In most of this year’s match ups, it was more about who had declined the least. We’re on a 20-year downhill spiral for the percent of living alumni who give. While we know that part of the issue is the sheer increase in the number of alumni institutions are trying to engage (increasing the denominator in the alumni participation equation), 68% of institutions saw reduced alumni donor counts during the recession. Colleges and universities that bucked this trend were the top alumni giving institutions, with some schools with great alumni engagement programs posting recent gains.

Higher education fundraising doesn’t run on averages: With less than 1 percent of institutions raising about 28 percent of the funds in higher education, the stats are skewed toward the top. There were real blowouts, especially in early rounds. However, there are a number of institutions with modest endowments and resources that have had success with alumni giving in the past few years, and I know from working with some of them that they’ve accomplished this with careful strategy and use of their budgets.

Many institutions need a training camp for online giving. We saw a wide range of online giving presence at institutions. It was not uncommon for it to be hard to find the giving portal from the main university web page. Crowdfunding continues to grow, but is often hard to find in connection to the giving portal. Social media engagement was minimal at best, a real problem and lost opportunity. We encourage everyone to think about how easy and fun it is to give online—because that’s where your donors will be giving as we move forward.

Potential tournament changes for next year: As you’ll hear in our podcast covering the results,our tournament is weighted about 70 percent toward donor count and alumni participation. From our recent conversations with advancement leaders, we’re hearing that dollars are dominating as a concern at most institutions. We’ll be looking at this over the course of the next year, and our methodology may evolve for next year’s tournament as we determine the top alumni giving institutions.

Listen to the podcast

I break down the results with RNL Vice President Josh Robertson, one of this year’s referees, on the latest episode of podcast Fundraising Voices, available on iTunes and Stitcher.

Can we compare our results even if our institution wasn’t in the NCAA Tournament?

2017 March Alumni Giving Madness tournament top alumni giving institutionsYou can find out how your alumni giving compares to your peers by requesting a Donor Comparison Report. Using data from the VSE survey, this report allows you to benchmark your alumni giving statistics and identify alumni giving trends. Request your free report here.

About the Author

Brian Gawor serves as vice president and is a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team. Brian’s focus is research and strategy to help propel the results of RNL clients. He also hosts the popular...

Read more about Brian's experience and expertise

Reach Brian by e-mail at

Read More In: