Fostering Young Alumni Donors

By Heather Thornton, Project Coordinator

The other day, I received a holiday email from my alma mater which promoted me to put “make year-end gift to Sewanee” on my to-do list.  Being in the fundraising field and working with higher education institutions on a daily basis, it also got me thinking about my relationship with Sewanee as a donor and ways in which it has evolved over the years.  As a result of my musings, I put together a list of some thoughts on how to acquire – and retain – young alumni donors:

  1. Plant the “giving seed” early – At last year’s commencement speech at a large state university, I was struck by the closing statement, made by the Vice Chancellor.  He encouraged the newly graduated students to take what they have learned during their time at the University, go out into the world and make a difference, and also to give back to their alma mater.   He then told them to reach under their chairs, under which were mail-in giving forms, complete with stamped envelopes.  Although I personally was not ready to give straight out of college until my mounting student loans were paid down, it certainly was one way to make the point.
  2. Reach out often, but not too often – Make enough contacts so that your alumni feel connected, but do not reach out so often that you become an annoyance.
  3. Reach them through multiple channels  – Reach out not just through direct mail or phone calls, but also through email and social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all quick – and free – ways to stay in touch).
  4. Ask for their stories/feedback  – Perhaps consider including a “Young Alumni Spotlight” section on your webpage.  Consider asking for feedback as to how attending your school had an impact on their lives, how they apply what they learned, etc.
  5. Engage them to help current students –  Sewanee does a good job of this.  Multiple upperclassmen have reached out to me over the years, asking for career advice or internship opportunities, and it is always nice to chat with them about their plans, but it also allows me to catch up on what is happening on campus and feel connected to the University.

As this year comes to a close, perhaps now might be a good time for you to reach out to your donors and send one last little touch their way.  You may find that your organization ends up on their year-end giving “to do” list as well!