What Alumni Want From Their Schools

Alumni GivingAfter spending four years and sometimes six figures at a school, it seems normal to expect something besides a piece of paper. How about some help getting a job? Or school-organized networking events? Or at least a school hat? Yet, often times, it’s the school asking for more. This disconnect can leave recent grads frustrated and older alums confused, particularly if they haven’t heard from the school in years.

Corporate Insight, a consulting firm focused on helping financial service providers connect and communicate with prospective and current clients, recently turned their expertise towards alumni relations. They found that while alums largely feel positively towards their alma maters, they’re not just going to shell out big bucks with just a call. However, the potential is there for alumni relations offices. It’s just going to take a little bit of relationship building.

“There’s much more of an emotionally driven impact of donations,” explains Michael Ellison, Corporate Insight’s president and the son of a father-son leadership team. “The donations seem to come from more of an emotional connection with the school. If you think about it, you can sense it, but to see it in such stark numbers is interesting.”


In October, Corporate Insight conducted online surveys with more than 1,100 alums from 168 North American colleges and universities. The goal was to get a sense of how alums feel about their former schools and relations with that school. The researchers also set out to identify donation behaviors of alums.

The universities ranged from large land-grant schools like the University of North Carolina and University of Oklahoma to top private institutions like Georgetown University and Duke University to military institutions such as the Air Force and Naval Academies.

Times haven’t been too tough for schools, the research, which was given to Poets&Quants, shows. Some 61% of respondents have made a donation to their alma maters. Moreover, only 12% said they’d never donate to their former schools. But those donations mainly come in small amounts. About two-thirds (66%) donated $250 or less for their most recent donations.


The good news for the schools, Ellison says, is more than half of the respondents who’ve never donated are open to “more involvement” with the schools. The bad news is 56% of those respondents who’ve never donated say they can’t afford to. The other bad news is more than 35% of those respondents are already donating to some sort of charity.

“Schools have got some competition even though they don’t compete against one another,” Ellison insists. “They are competing amongst the wallet, if you will. Not only your day-to-day expenses, but the way you discretionarily spend your money.”

So what should schools do? Keep their students emotionally involved, the study and Ellison say. According to the research the 47% of alums say they donate because they feel “deep school pride.” Some 44% say they donate to as a “way to feel involved.” Only 23% said they donated because of an impressive solicitation from the school. Just 21% say they donated because the “school needs help.”

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