Looking to make some extra cash in college, I joined a small but relentless army of student workers calling alumni and asking them to donate to the university.
If you’ve graduated from a four-year university in the past century, chances are you’ve received a call like this.
Mostly, I enjoyed talking with older alumni. For one thing, they didn’t hang up as soon as I told them why I was calling. They actually wanted to talk to me even though they knew the call would end with me asking for money. And often they would make a donation because they believed in investing in students and faculty they had never met.
My conversations with younger alumni, however, were much different. Those who didn’t immediately hang up quickly reminded me about their student loans, or told me why they felt giving to another cause was a better use of their money.
Fast forward to today. I just received a call from a current student at my alma mater asking me to donate. I’m a proud alum, and I currently work for Achieve, a research and campaigns agency that helps universities and organizations understand Millennial giving. So you’d think I’d be compelled to donate, right?
Nope. My response echoed the ones I heard from many other Millennial alumni.
Why am I, like many other Millennials, more likely to donate to several other causes before even considering donating to my alma mater?
The answer is actually pretty simple.
Millennial alumni have a difficult time seeing how their gift would make a difference because most universities don’t show them a compelling reason to give and struggle to present themselves as a cause worthy of donations.
How did we figure this out? Last year, Achieve, in partnership with The Chronicle of Philanthropy, released the first-ever Millennial Alumni Study, which examined how Millennial graduates (born 1980-2000) of four-year universities view giving to their alma mater.
First, the good news: Approximately 73% of Millennial alumni intend to give to their alma mater in the future.
But there is one stat that continues to frighten most university fundraisers:
Of the thousands of Millennial alumni surveyed, 75% said they would be more likely to donate to a different cause or organization than their alma mater.
So which is it? Of course, it’s important to remember that successful alumni giving programs take decades, not months. However, there’s opportunity here.
There are three important things universities need to know about Millennials before asking them to give.
1. Millennial alumni give to individuals and causes, not organizations.
This quality continues to drive success with NGOs and organizations that effectively raise most of their funding from Millennial donors. Millennial alumni are much more likely to give when introduced to a specific person who needs their help. What works – and we’ve seen this work with universities today – is highlighting a specific student or faculty member and telling potential donors how their gift will make a difference through scholarships, new equipment, program funding, etc.
For example: “Meet Jason. Jason is studying to be a doctor and he’s here on a scholarship from the Alumni Scholarship Fund. Your gift helps make it possible for students like Jason to attend the university.”
2. Millennial alumni need to feel connected to the university community.
Your strategy won’t work unless there’s a well-established relationship between the university and the Millennial alum. This relationship started in high school when they received their acceptance letter and doesn’t end just because they received their diploma. In the Millennial Alumni Study, we found that faculty relationships were hugely important to maintaining these university-alumni connections after graduation.
Facilitating networking is not enough. Offer resources that help recent graduates transition into the career they want. For example, we’re currently working with Palm Beach Atlantic University to build a series of resources and messaging that begins at the start of a student’s senior year and goes through their first year after graduation.
3. Millennial alumni are more likely to give when they have options.
Millennial donors, like all donors, respond well to options. You can give them an even greater sense of influence when you allow them to allocate their donation to a specific department, program, club or initiative. Capital campaigns may attract wealthier donors, but young alumni are more compelled to give to the groups or initiatives on campus that they feel a personal connection to.
Always make student scholarships an option for donors. Of the alumni we surveyed for the Millennial Alumni Study, 51% preferred giving current students financial aid or scholarships.
Finally, it’s time to stop calling Millennial alumni to solicit donations. Millennials don’t even like talking to their parents on the phone, so it’s not surprising that only 3% of Millennial alumni said they prefer receiving phone calls from their alma mater.
Just because Millennial alumni aren’t giving to you now doesn’t mean they won’t, but it requires a new way of thinking. It’s not enough to say, “Donate now to invest in the future of our university.” The reason Millennial donors give to other organizations is because other organizations are able to show the need, tell how the donor can alleviate the need and position themselves as a cause worthy of donations.
Interested in the full Millennial Alumni Study? Download the report now – and don’t be afraid to contact us if you need any help.