My five-year college reunion is coming up in June, and whenever I think about that I feel myself doing a double take and saying, “Where did the time go?” I had a wonderful college experience, and I look to that time as one that helped shape the person I’ve become. Even still, there’s something about giving to Brandeis, my alma mater, that feels a little different than my other philanthropy. I know I share that sentiment with many of my peers who are often hit up by their respective universities for donations. A lot of people feel put off by that, especially given the rising costs of tuition, the continuous looming weight of shouldering their loans, and the understandable argument that if they’ve graduated, they won’t be the people benefiting from the school, so what’s the point of giving? I asked my friend and former classmate Aaron Louison to help people understand why giving to their school is a good idea. This is the second part of Aaron’s article, the first part of which can be found here. Aaron is the Associate Director of Annual Giving at Brandeis University.
These are some of the top reasons why you should care about your university’s declining alumni participation rate:
- A smaller donor pipeline decreases the likelihood of major alumni donors to exist in the future.
Many millennials say, “I want to give, just not now.” Or, “I’ll start giving once I have more money.” The problem with these assumptions is that it’s often incorrect. Research shows that an individual is much more likely to donate larger amounts later in life if they had been donating smaller amounts all along the way.
Take philanthropists Carl and Ruth Shapiro for example. They made their first donation of $10 in 1950, even though it was all they could afford. It is likely the tens of millions of dollars that the Shapiro’s gave to Brandeis University fifty years later may not have happened had it not been for their early philanthropy.
So if your goal is to eventually become a powerful philanthropist when you strike it rich, you should begin building your own philanthropic pipeline now. And if it’s not you, then you should encourage your friends to make their own small gifts now, because if they make it rich, you’ll want them to give back, won’t you?
- More alumni participating means more dollars for students
Yeah, your $10 gift won’t mean much on its own. But the beauty of being part of an alumni community is that you’re not alone. For some of the larger schools like Boston University, there are over 300,000 alumni. With a community that big, just 1% of them (3,000) giving $10 results in $30,000 for the school. That means as long as everyone does their part, one student can receive a significant aid package.
- Your school doesn’t have a better way of measuring alumni satisfaction
Just like any company, universities care about “Customer Satisfaction.” Alumni, a college’s “customer,” are the prior recipients of the school’s educational product, and the next generation of students wants to know how much these prior “customers” enjoyed their experience before embarking on a similar one themselves.
How does one measure college satisfaction? Surveys are nice, but they have issues. Methodology is often flawed and multiple choice doesn’t tell the full story. Instead, by looking at the number of alumni who give back each year, a university can truly say what percentage of its former “customers” enjoyed their experience. Rarely does someone donate money to a cause that they don’t believe in.
It is for this reason that US News and World Report includes the alumni giving rate in their overall ranking of each school. Giving back every year helps your school improve in the rankings.
- Fewer donors means fewer dollars available for student scholarships
Believe it or not, your expensive tuition bill does not come close to covering the full cost of your college education. Thanks to fundraising, your college was able to offer more programs and resources than they could have relying on tuition money alone. At private non profit four-year schools, tuition revenue pays for less than 1/3 of the university’s expenses.
By relying less on tuition, your school is able to become more and more need-blind in its admissions policy. If your school can accept more students regardless of their ability to pay, the quality of students goes up, and the academic environment improves.
You may ask “Well how can universities still be charging so much if it doesn’t even cover the full budget of the school?” This is a fair question, but what is rarely covered in the media about rising tuition bills, is that financial aid often rises in conjunction with it.
In 2012-2013, the average aid package was around $13,000 per year. The more elite schools offered even more generous financial aid. Dartmouth College offered an average of $46,000 in financial aid in the 2014-2015 academic year, enabling the average student debt after four years to be just over $20,000.
If you graduated with little debt compared to what could have been without financial aid, consider thanking the generosity of your university’s community. And remember, that you’re part of that same community once you graduate.
But merely supporting a school because you care about its rankings is not even half of the story. Philanthropy is a touchy subject. It’s deeply personal, and for millennials it’s often inconceivable. But philanthropy doesn’t need to be large to be important.
Giving back is your way of making your voice heard. It’s your way of declaring your own support for the causes that you believe in and for the organizations that made you who you are.
There are more people going to college today than ever before because of the life-changing opportunities a bachelor’s degree makes available. If your college education truly opened doors for you, personally or professionally, you have an organization to be grateful for, and one which should be on the top of your philanthropic priority list. You will only be able to say that it was at college that you spent four years of self-exploration, introspection, and becoming the real “you.” If your college changed you, you should support it. There is an entire generation of students following in your footsteps now who will be equally as changed by sharing the same great experiences you had.