5 Reasons Alumni Participation Is Important

Posted on 02/11/2018

Picture it. You’re standing alone before the Board of Trustees, ready to present the annual giving team’s strategy to increase your institution’s alumni participation rate. You’ve got a deck full of slides filled with goals, schedules, examples, charts, and metrics. You launch into your presentation confidently (you’ve been practicing!) when suddenly one of the board members cuts you off and says, “All this talk of alumni participation. So what? Why does it even matter? After all, you can’t take participation rates to the bank!”

When you boil it all down, the two most basic and fundamental metrics for any annual giving program are donors and dollars. Donors reflect the number of individuals or organizations who make a gift and dollars reflect the amount of money donated.

Most advancement professionals don’t have a hard time explaining why annual fund dollars are important. They provide an important source of “flexible” and “spendable” revenue that has an impact on today’s students, faculty, and programs. It’s money to “live on” versus money to “grow on,” which typically comes in the form of capital/endowment support. Annual support can be just as significant as endowment support. For example, a $5 million annual fund can have the same financial impact as a $100 million endowment in a given year.

On the other hand, many struggle to articulate the importance of alumni participation. For most educational institutions, the majority of donors will be alumni – although there are other significant donors groups that are also important, such as parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends. Alumni donor counts are used to calculate alumni participation by dividing them by the number of living alumni on record. For example, if your institution has 100,000 alumni of record (i.e., living with a good address) and 10,000 of them made a gift last year, your alumni participation rate was 10%.

The next time you’re put on the spot to explain why participation rates matter (by a volunteer, a colleague, a boss, or a friend), make sure you’re prepared with a good answer. To help you out, here are 5 reasons why alumni participation is important:

  1. Alumni participation creates a broad and diverse base of support as well as a pipeline of future support.
  2. Consistent giving by alumni (even at modest levels) in the years immediately following their graduation increases the likelihood that they will become major donors later in life.
  3. Alumni who give regularly (even at modest levels) throughout their life are more likely to make planned gifts and/or include their alma mater in their estate plans.
  4. Alumni participation rates are 1 of the 7 factors considered by U.S. News & World Report when evaluating and ranking colleges and universities. Rankings can affect reputation, reputation can affect enrollment, and enrollment can affect revenue from tuition.
  5. High levels of alumni participation can inspire major donors, corporations, and foundations to increase their own support. People and organizations want to invest in successful institutions that others are supporting too.

Understanding, and being able to explain, why alumni participation rates are significant isn’t just important so that you have a good answer when someone asks. It will also help you appreciate the core purpose of annual giving and the reason why it is so fundamental to the success of advancement programs overall. No doubt, strong alumni participation rates are the key to sustainable philanthropy support and the long-term success of educational institutions.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Alumni Participation Strategies.