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Though Atticus is ready and able to partner with any and all types of fundraising entities, for this blog we are going to home in on one specific area — university and alumni giving.

Because alumni are, not surprisingly, a university’s most loyal and generous donors, it’s crucial for fundraisers to understand why alumni engagement matters and how it can best be accomplished. Below, we’ll take a deeper look at each of those things, as well as the role Atticus can play in assisting your institution.


Alumni Giving by the Numbers

According to Forbes, “U.S. higher education had a very good year in 2021 when it came to charitable giving.” A survey released by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) reported that voluntary giving to U.S. higher education institutions rose 6.9% in the fiscal year ending mid-year 2021.

Total giving for 2021 for colleges and universities in the United States came in at around $52.9 billion, up from $49.5 billion in the previous year. Accounting for inflation, this is a rise of about 5.1%.

About 33.1% of those donations came from foundations, while individual alumni were responsible for 23.2%. Non-alumni individuals made up 16.6%, corporations 13.2%, and other organizations contributed 13.9%. Although individual alumni, explicitly, weren’t responsible for the greatest percentage of gifts, it’s reasonable to assume that the foundations, corporations, and other organizations who gave to a university’s fund also have a close connection to the school. For example, perhaps the founder of a foundation or corporation is an alumnus.

Regardless of whether donations come directly from a graduate or an organization with close ties to a college or university, these numbers demonstrate the importance of engaging alumni and having a solid strategy for fundraising.


Alumni Engagement Strategies

As you begin to consider your strategy for alumni engagement, first look at your needs, as well as what your institution will consider success. For example, do you want simply to measure alumni engagement (the percentage of graduates who are now giving to your college or university)? Or instead, maybe you are looking to build out your donor pyramid to hit certain fundraising numbers for the year and you need to identify the right people and how much you should be asking them to give. Either way, a few strategic principles will remain the same.

First, as is the case with almost any type of fundraising effort, communication is key — from the first point of contact until after a gift has been made. Most everyone is familiar with the fundraising calls from current students at their former university — and while this strategy has its place, consider other ways to get creative in how you ask for donations. Targeted marketing and social media are ways to draw in small to medium donors, while tactics like large-scale events or one-on-one meetings may help you find success with major donors (more on how Atticus can work with you on this piece below). Consider the profile of your ideal donor and plan your efforts around that, tailoring your plans to the demographic you seek to reach and capture.

Next, once you have the attention of potential donors, help them connect their personal mission, vision, and values (MVV) to that of your college or university — and not just generally, but to specific causes. Of course, alumni have the connection of having gone to the school, but for many that alone may not be enough. According to one study, “67% of wealthy donors have said that their biggest challenge around donations is finding the right cause to support. For institutions that want to attract more alumni giving, this means they should focus on highlighting the importance of their cause.” Here, Atticus is specifically poised to help. So long as your MVV is clearly defined, our technology can find potential, highly aligned donors. We’ll tell you the right people to talk to — and all that will be left for you to do is make a compelling case, which should prove significantly easier when you can be confident that their passions align with those of the school or raise.

Lastly, make sure it is simple and easy for alumni to give. A reported 75% of college/university alumni polled said that their engagement with their institution would increase if gift information and the giving process itself was more mobile-friendly. Only 22% of people preferred to send a gift by mail, so making this process quick and efficient from a donor’s phone or computer is essential. Finding the right people and successfully inviting them to join your endeavor is a futile effort if you lose the potential donor in the actual gift-giving process.


Partner with Atticus

Though higher education fundraising certainly has its nuances and unique components, many of the same principles that any fundraising institution would use still apply. Namely, finding the right people at the right time who are primed to give to your cause is, of course, absolutely crucial. As mentioned above, Atticus’s specialty is just this. We’ll use your alumni network and database to identify potential major donors. Looking at their employment, net worth, giving history, recent changes (selling homes, businesses, etc.), and more. This information paired with signaling what specific raises they would have an interest in based on their personal MVV (Mission, Vision, and Values), will help guide your institution on whom to focus your efforts on, especially as you solicit significant gifts.

Though trends in college and university giving have shown an increase, it’s important that you stay on top of your game and up to date with the best and newest ways to fundraise. If you’re looking to take your school’s fundraising to the next level, reach out to Atticus — we’re here to help.