We make a lot of assumptions about alumni giving without the data to back them up. To help us test those assumptions, here are three graphs from rigorous surveys with hundreds of thousands of participants.
The data reveal that young alumni give at much lower rates than their more established counterparts— as many of us already know at our own institutions.
They also help us understand how we might improve those giving rates by addressing alumni's frustrations and needs.
The Alumni Attitude Study surveyed over 500,000 alumni at 200 universities and colleges between 2001–2012. The first question they asked alumni was, "Do you give to your alma matter and do you plan to in the future?":
What we see makes intuitive sense. The younger the alumna, the less likely she is to have given before, but the more likely she intends to give for the first time in the future.
But we also see that young alumni intend to never give in the future at higher rates than their counterparts. Why is that?
The Alumni Attitude Study might have the answer. They also asked alumni to judge the importance of their alma mater's duties, and to compare that to how well their alma mater actually performed them.
Bars fall on the left side of the graph for duties where their importance outweighs schools' performance. Bars fall on the right side of the graph for duties where performance outweighs importance:
"Identifying job opportunities," "serving as ambassadors," "mentoring students," and "providing leadership" are all areas where schools are not doing enough, according to their young alumni. They're all career-oriented concerns. Could the failure of schools to help their young alumni launch successful careers be part of the reason for their lower giving rates?
To help answer that question, we turn to the Gallup-Purdue Index 2015 report, "Great Jobs, Great Lives: The Relationship Between Student Debt, Experiences and Perceptions of College Worth." Gallup and Purdue University surveyed over 30,000 alumni to determine whether they thought their education was worth the cost:
The correlation between income and satisfaction with one's education doesn't make the perfect case that colleges should be doing more to support their alumni's careers, but it does make a strong one.
There will always be alumni who choose lower-paying careers in education, the nonprofit sector, and so on, for whom income does not reflect poorly on the quality of their education. But the fact that satisfaction still decreases with income level suggests that there are alumni who feel let down by their alma mater. Those alumni are less likely to give, and give less when they do, than their older counterparts.
If these data have a takeaway, it's this: Career success has an enormous impact on alumni satisfaction and propensity to give.
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