Deep Dive: Young Alumni Engagement

by Rachel Bishop | February 24, 2020
Deep Dive: Young Alumni Engagement

Deep Dive: This blog takes a deeper look at alumni engagement, exploring young alumni engagement and how institutions can connect with young alumni in ways that matter.

Maintaining good relationships with alumni over time is crucial for many reasons. First, alumni can help recruit prospects. Further, they can provide mentoring, internships, and career opportunities to enrolled students. Also, alumni bring in much-needed revenue by coming back to campus as lifelong learners or through private giving. This is especially important in order to stabilize operating costs and remain competitive in public rankings.[1]

A strategic focus on outreach to recent alumni is crucial because if colleges and universities can engage alumni early on, they are likely to remain engaged over time. Young alumni who donate, even if it is a very small amount, are usually consistent givers and can become larger donors later. For example, first-time donors often increase gifts by 10% in the second year.[2] But the VAESE survey of alumni relations professionals found that 24% feel they are doing a poor job in attracting and engaging young alumni. Meanwhile, 63% state that they need to do more. Only 13% feel they are doing well in connecting with recent graduates.[3] How can colleges increase young alumni engagement and participation?

Factors to consider for young alumni engagement

It’s important to understand that alumni need to have a strong emotional connection with their alma mater first before being asked to contribute time or money. True engagement is a long-term process that requires the institution to do quite a bit of planning. When working with recent graduates, it is more important to focus on relationship-building first because a close relationship now can pay off in many ways later.

Keep in mind that today’s alumni are often stressed by loans. Alumni who are in debt are focused on paying off their own education and are likely not interested in helping to fund another person’s. But there are other ways to interact with and stay connected with alumni while they are paying off their loans. For instance, colleges can communicate and offer useful guidance and support, such as help with starting and growing a career. Further, alumni who are unable to contribute through donations can volunteer their time and expertise in many useful ways. For instance, they might serve as brand ambassadors to prospective students or mentors to current students. Research shows that recent alumni report greater interest in volunteering opportunities than those who have been out of college for a longer period of time.[4]

Volunteer opportunities

Volunteer events provide an opportunity for alumni to re-affiliate and re-engage with an institution as they learn about new developments and achievements at their almayoung alumni engagement mater. Volunteering for the institution is the strongest indicator of alumni identity.[5] Initially asking alumni to donate their time rather than their money can create a relationship that will lead to financial donations later. In fact, 75% of those who volunteer eventually donate.[6][7] Volunteer events don’t have to occur at or directly benefit the institution. Alumni chapters and satellite groups are often interested in getting together to volunteer for any cause because they enjoy spending social time together in a way that has a positive impact on other people’s lives.

One way to engage young alumni in fundraising is to use a crowdfunding model in which non-profits strive for smaller donation amounts from a larger number of donors. Companies like Kickstarter and GoFundMe have become more popular as technology makes it easier to reach large numbers of people quickly. Young alumni are experienced with and often prefer to give in this manner. Also, they prefer to pool their small donations for a specific purpose, such as improvements to a campus structure that holds emotional value to certain class years or social groups.

Recent alumni also want to feel like they are part of the fundraising process. First, be sure to communicate that donations of any size, even less than $100, can make a difference. In fact, research shows that alumni who do not contribute believe colleges are profitable without their support. Further, these grads may feel that small donations do not make an impact. Second, keep in mind that alumni are more likely to engage when campaigns are both interactive and competitive.

In action: The University of Central Arkansas (UCA)

In 2019, the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) allowed alumni to select which causes they wanted to support from a list of funding options. Contributions were then made public on web-based dashboards that reported giving in real-time as the campaign approached a time-based deadline.[8] Alumni could track giving on interactive graphics that included geographic maps, progress bars, and donor rolls. As a result, UCA raised 75% more in total alumni donations than they did in 2018.

Learn more about young alumni engagement

To learn more about young alumni engagement, including strategies, helpful case studies, and best practices, download our ebook below.

* Special thanks to our guest author, Alice Anne Bailey, PhD, a Higher Education Consultant.


[1] Seltzer, R. (2016, June 30). The Elusive Young Donor. Inside Higher Education

[2] Paterson, J. (2019, August 20). To Create a Culture of Giving, Colleges Go After Small Donations. Education Dive.

[3] Toyn (2017)

[4] Widenhorn and Knudsen (2019)

[5] Dillon (2017)

[6] Gaier, S. (2005). Alumni Satisfaction with their undergraduate academic experience and the impact on alumni giving and participation. International Journal of Educational Advancement, 5 (4), 279–288.

[7] Dietz and Keller (2016)

[8] Widenhorn, M. (2019)

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