“The Schuler Initiative: Young Alumni Engagement & Philanthropy” report notes recent grads are donating to their alma maters, often more than $1000 annually
There’s a common misconception debunked in a recent report issued by the Schuler Education Foundation and research firm Ruffalo Noel and Levitz (RNL).
For years, the millennial generation had become known for their lack of donations — certainly substantial donations — to their college or university alma maters.
The report, an overview of a three-year initiative that involved surveying about 7,000 alumni across five liberal arts colleges, makes the opposite clear.
Younger alumni do give back.
Dubbed “The Schuler Initiative: Young Alumni Engagement & Philanthropy,” the report includes the results of yearly surveys of alums from 2002-2017 from Bates, Carleton, Middlebury, Wellesley and Williams colleges.
The results show a double-digit increase in alumni donating more than $1,000 annually, Jason Patenaude, COO and executive director of the Schuler Education Foundation, said. The number of alumni who believe their financial donations made a difference to their alma mater more than doubled during the time frame, as not even the coronavirus pandemic could stop the trend of millennials donating more to their alma maters.
“Perhaps the most important shift we saw in our survey data, however, were the reasons why young alumni give,” Patenaude said. “At the beginning of the initiative, most alumni reported giving out of a sense of gratitude for the help they received from their alma mater. By 2021, however, nearly 70 percent of respondents said they gave to support current students.”
First-generation and alumni of color also show more interest in giving back to their alma maters compared to non-alumni of color or those who were not first-generation college students—countering a misconception in higher education giving.
From 2018 to 2021, the colleges that participated in the survey saw a 54 percent growth in the young alumni donor base and a 74 percent donor retention, reversing a four-year decline in renewal rates.
Perhaps even more striking, nearly nine out of 10 young alumni reported making charitable contributions. One-third of the survey participants said they have donated $1,000 or more.
“These findings show great opportunities for colleges and universities to engage their young alumni and tap into their strong philanthropic spirit,” said Sarah Kleeberger, RNL senior vice president for fundraising strategy. “By authentically connecting with recent graduates and showing the impact of their gifts, institutions can cultivate a new generation of donors who are engaged and give back to their alma maters.”
And advanced market research involving more than 40,000 alumni from 36 colleges and universities yielded similar results.
So, what makes millennial alumni want to donate?
The Schuler survey says nearly 70 percent want to support areas such as diversity, equity and inclusion. Mental health, financial aid advising, crisis or student emergency funds, and first-generation initiatives were other areas respondents as a whole favored supporting.
“Young alumni need to see how their philanthropy makes a difference,” Patenaude said. “This generation wants to give, but the opportunities to do so need to be relevant to them and authentic to the college’s culture.”