5 Studies on Alumni Giving and Engagement to Review in 2017

Start 2017 off right by brushing up on the empirical bases of your advancement and alumni relations strategies.

We handpicked these five articles from academic journals and elsewhere to give you a foundation for success in the new year.

"The Seven Essentials of Highly Engaged Alumni"

This 2011 master's thesis identifies and explains seven traits that characterize Marquette University's most engaged alumni. The author uses in-person interviews with alumni to achieve a depth of understanding that broader quantitative studies cannot.

Read it to understand what makes your alumni tick and what you can do to build stronger relationships with them.

The seven essentials are:

  • Community and Networking
  • Pride and Spirit
  • Spirituality and Character
  • Service
  • Learning
  • Connecting with Students
  • Giving and Creating Legacy

"Laws of Attraction: To Ramp up Alumni Engagement, Give Graduates What They Want"

In this 2013 classic from CASE CURRENTS, journalist Mary Ellen Collins investigates how leading institutions revised their engagement strategies to serve alumni rather than just ask them to serve their alma mater. Collins's subjects include Phillips Exeter, Case Western, UCONN, and others.

One of the strongest alumni affinity groups grew from a student finance association that had amassed more than 450 members and three alumni chapters on its own before partnering with the alumni association. "You don't need control. You want impact."

"Altruism and the Child-Cycle of Alumni Donations"

What motivates alumni to give? A Princeton prof and a Stanford prof teamed up to find out, and the answer might surprise you:


The study found that alumni give more and more often to their alma mater when their children approach college age, and give less if their child is not admitted. The conclusions of the study have implications far broader than just legacy admissions practices—they prove that alumni give to their alma mater because they expect something back.

This should be a wake up call to any shop that asks something of its alumni but gives nothing in return.

"Factors That Lead Millennial Alumni to Donate to Their Alma Mater"

This dissertation analyzes data from the Alumni Attitude Study to isolate the causes behind millennial giving. We all have our own explanations for why alumni give, but it's worth checking those internal models against empirical reality.

The key takeaway? Alumni engagement starts long before they are alumni. A happy student is a happy alumna, and one more likely to give, to boot.

Connecting students with alumni was one stand-out variable in this study. Alumni are more likely to give if they had the opportunity to interact with alumni when they were students.

"A Comparison of Informal Mentoring Relationships and Formal Mentorship Programs"

This study from 1991 is a bit of a sleeper. It found that mentors contributed greatly to both their mentees' job satisfaction and ability to adjust to their careers.

More interestingly though, the study found that formal mentorship programs are deeply flawed in comparison to informal programs. That's because formal programs don't often give mentors and mentees the chance to screen one another for shared temperaments and goals.

The article is a must-read for anyone who runs, or is thinking about starting, a mentorship program at their institution.


Looking for more reading for 2017? Download one of our free whitepapers.