After spending 6 years on the philanthropic fundraising team at the University of Chicago, it became clear that an institution's young alumni community is the foundation on which all current and future fundraising rests. The annual gifts from this group are critical to the success of your school's campaign, but these 'asks' often come with a risky bet: alienating your base of young prospects. Are you asking your young alumni to give back before you've given them anything of value? And no, the world-class education they received as a student doesn't count.
If your young alumni are among the 44.2 million people with $1.4T in student loan debt, they're probably a bit resentful every time they receive a phone call or email asking them to give back what little they might be earning.
A typical graduate of the Class of 2016 left their institution with more than $37K in debt, and an average starting salary of $48,270. This debt comes with an average monthly payment of $351. After taxes, that's more than 10% of their monthly salary going to pay off loans. There's not much left for a young alum to part with after making payments on loans, rent, food, a car, and Netflix, of course.
If your young alumni are among the lucky group of scholarship recipients, they probably still don't think they owe you anything. Recent grads see their late nights and early mornings in the library studying for exams and writing papers as payment (with interest!) for the education they received. And if they struggled to find employment after all of that? Well...I'd be cautious about your next step in engaging them.
It's critical to your advancement team's efforts to treat each of your alumni, young or old, like they are potential major gift prospects. Cultivate them the way you would a major gift prospect. Give them value and pull them into the fold.
Ok, so maybe you can't invite every alum to a private dinner at the president's home, but still, ask them to come back to campus. Ask them to speak to a group of students about finding their first job. Ask them how they're doing. Ask them if they need help. Ask them literally anything else before you ask, "Are you ready to give back to the school that gave you so much?"
Young alumni want to feel like they're getting something extra out of both the time and financial investment they've made at your school. Free events and open bars at alumni weekends are great, but they can be transactional and won't garner the sort of affinity that leads to long-lasting and, ultimately, philanthropic relationships with your school.
By investing in the non-monetary engagement of young alumni, you add value to the overall alumni community and increase the ROI in the long run.
For young alumni that are struggling to find work or a better job, offer them help. Offer them a network of seasoned alumni who can have their backs and help them get on the right track. Make it as easy as possible.
Give them the help they need and then ask them to lend that same hand back to current students who are trying to figure it all out. Ask young alumni not for money, but for a little bit of their time to share their experiences with students who are just trying to understand that next step after graduation.
Building a tight community of alumni with strong affinity doesn't require an army of alumni relations professionals directing, connecting, and facilitating interactions. With the right tools, your Alumni Relations team can sit back and relax while Advancement reaps the invaluable engagement and affinity data to help them prioritize pipelines and fill prospect pools.
By investing in the non-monetary engagement of young alumni, you add value to the overall alumni community and increase the ROI in the long run. Having a warmer, more engaged young alumni population will lead to more of this group converting to donors, and at higher levels.
Lindsey Royer is an experienced advancement services professional, with 6 years in philanthropic fundraising at the University of Chicago's Office of Alumni Relations and Development. Lindsey is now the Director of Customer Success & Research at Wisr, focusing on scaling the engagement between alumni and students for advancement teams. Wisr provides a digital community for alumni to network and share relevant industry information, while opting-in to support students and other similar volunteering initiatives.
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