Your Fundraising Team Should Rethink the Way It Solicits Young Alumni

The millennial generation’s relationship with our alma maters is fundamentally different than that of previous generations.

We graduated during a turbulent economic period with a weak job market and soaring student loan numbers. Underemployed and in debt, it’s going to take our generation a few years before we see the full ROI of our college experience.

This presents an interesting challenge for university fundraisers. It is critical to engage young alumni and instill the importance of philanthropic giving early. But will traditional fundraising strategies be effective for a generation faced with unique challenges and uncertain economic prospects?

Here are some ideas for engaging young alumni in ways that will inspire long-term loyalty and philanthropy for a lifetime:

Support first, solicit later.

The number one priority of any young alumni engagement strategy should be to support graduates as they make their entrance into the post-college world and ascend the professional ranks. This support can take many shapes and forms—networking events, mentoring programs, skills-based seminars, access to campus resources, and more.

At Syracuse University’s NYC office, we’ve organized a number of young alumni seminars and events, including a Google+ Hangout on How to Find an Apartment in NYC, a panel discussion about Working at NYC’s Hottest Startups, and a seminar about Money Management for Young Professionals. At each program, we point out the generosity and dedication of the alumni who had a hand in making the program possible and directly suggest that all young alumni have a responsibility to give back to keep our institution strong.

When young alumni feel supported by their alma mater—instead of thrown out into the dark, cold, post-collegiate world to fend for themselves—they’ll be more likely to give back in the years to come.

Expand your definition of philanthropy.

Philanthropy isn’t just about giving money. In fact, many young alumni are probably better positioned to make impactful gifts of time and skill than financial contributions. These gifts should be celebrated!

In my role with SU, I’ve worked with incredibly generous young alumni. They’ve opened up the doors to their workplaces (at organizations like Google and The Wall Street Journal) to create events for students. They’ve facilitated important recruiting connections with their companies, leading to enhanced employment prospects for our graduates. They’ve spoken on panels as experts. They’ve interviewed prospective students. They’ve dedicated countless hours of their personal time to lead thriving alumni clubs.

When working with young alumni, be sure that the messaging around “giving back” is balanced. Of course financial gifts are crucial but so too are the many other types of gifts that can be made to one’s alma mater. When a young alum feels that his/her gifts of time and talent are genuinely valued, s/he will be more receptive to a request for a financial gift when the time is right.

Create opportunities for young alumni to make an immediate, specific impact.

When young alumni choose to contribute financially, they want to know that their gifts are making a direct impact. It’s important for schools to articulate the results of annual giving, as well as to offer alternate avenues for giving. Many schools now offer customized opportunities to crowdfund specific projects so that young alumni can see a more direct and immediate impact.

Arizona State PitchFunder, Syracuse University CuseFunder, and UCLA Spark are just a few examples of higher ed crowdfunding platforms.

Offer personalized stewardship.

As young alumni form their giving habits, a little bit of personalized stewardship can go a long way. While a $100 gift from an older donor might beget a thank you message in the mail, I would argue that the same gift from a recent grad should receive more personal attention. A thoughtful email, phone call, or even a request for a visit all say, “Your gift matters!” Take the opportunity to discover why the alum chose to give and how s/he might otherwise like to be involved.

A personalized stewardship approach gives the university an opportunity to reinforce the idea that each and every gift counts. Young alumni can receive updates on relevant projects and hear how their donations were ultimately put to use. As an added bonus, they’ll be able to identify a personal connection in the alumni/development office—a great way to ensure continued support through the years!

To learn more about crowdfunding, read about its ability to connect alums—young and old—to causes they care about in this post from Ashley Reidy.


Dan Klamm is a monthly contributor to the EverTrue blog. He serves as Director of Young Alumni Engagement for the NYC office of his alma mater, Syracuse University. He has six years of experience across higher education career services, alumni relations, and marketing. Feel free to connect with Dan on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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