According to the US Census Bureau, the number of young alumni (i.e. Millennials) in the country has skyrocketed to 83.1 million. Forget about the “coming seismic demographic shift” that we have been hearing about for years. It is well underway and starting to take root.
On the surface, the fact that Millennials now represent more than a quarter of the nation’s population bodes well for higher education development offices. After all, more Millennials means more donors - right? Well, what we are seeing is that more donors does not necessarily mean more donations...
Today’s Graduates Donating Less to Alma Maters
Indeed, a study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy using data supplied by the University of Georgia’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations (UGA) revealed that recent college and university graduates are donating far less to their alma mater than previous generations. Specifically, in terms of participation, the number of new graduates today giving back to their school compared to those in the 1960s has plummeted 45.7 percent!
Given this, one might suspect that the root cause for this worrisome trend is that young alumni en masse are not interested – at least, not yet -- in donating to worthy causes, whether it be their school, a local animal shelter, medical research, or anything else. However, this notion, like many of the unfair stereotypes that cling to Millennials, is simply not true.
Millennials are Donating – Just not to their School
Achieve’s Millennial Impact Report revealed that a whopping 84 percent of Millennials made a charitable donation in 2014, and 70 percent volunteered an hour of their time. Separate research published in Blackbaud’s Next Generation of American Giving found that the average Millennial donation was $481 – an amount that is even more generous given that, as NBC.com reports, Millennials on average have much more debt and less income than Gen Xers and Boomers.
And so, when we “crunch the trends” to try and make sense of what is really happening, what we see is that Millennials are indeed supporting charities. However, they are choosing not to include their alma mater.
How to Get Millennials to Give Back More and for Longer
To turn this situation around, higher education development offices are encouraged to mine Achieve’s groundbreaking 2014 Millennial Alumni Study [download.pdf], but we've done the mining for you. Below we've highlighted 4 powerful insights on how to get Millennials to donate earlier in their giving history:
1) Deliver value immediately after graduation.
The fall of a student's senior year through the first year after graduation is a highly influential time period. Schools should take full advantage of this limited window by providing career support/guidance and networking support. Career centers should look into doing an online exit survey or exit interview for graduating students in order to understand what causes or activities students were more involved in. This allows annual giving groups to send relevant content to young alumni in order to increase engagement.
Note: The idea here is not to ask new graduates to donate right away. It is to offer value, and build a foundation for a lasting relationship. When these graduates establish themselves in the workforce and move into the next phase of their life, schools want to be fondly remembered as an ally that provided them with encouragement and support when they needed it – and, notably, when their school did not have to provide it.
2) Outreach online vs. phone.
While many Millennials are (it seems) surgically attached to their smartphones, they ironically do not like getting phone calls in general, and from their alma mater in particular. As Achieve confirmed, they much prefer social media communication and email. In fact, an overwhelming 73% said that they would be open to receiving a monthly newsletter from their school.
3) Get them engaged.
Unlike their parents and grandparents, many Millennials – and especially college and university graduates – do not equate making a financial donation as demonstrating engagement. Rather, they see it as expressing engagement. As mentioned above, schools should find practical ways to get Millennials involved by making it easy for them to volunteer their time, such as by serving on an alumni board, mentoring freshmen, tutoring, and so on.
4) Focus on first-timers.
While all donors are important and valued, schools should pay particular attention to first-time donors, and clearly help them understand how their contribution is being put to good use. They should also be thanked for making a difference; ideally with a personal, hand written letter or warm and personal email from the president, a school executive or a current student.
The Bottom Line
Obviously, the fact that young alumni are giving less to their alma mater is not what higher education development offices want to hear. Yet this scenario is not as daunting nor depressing as it may seem – because, as noted, Millenials are giving and they do care.
As such, the challenge and also the solution here is to engage and continue re-engaging young alumni, so that they include their alma mater within their charitable vision. Schools that achieve this goal will be in very good financial shape for when the children of Millennials start enrolling in the next 20-30 years (and invariably wonder why their parents are so lame – because alas, some things never change!). Click here to read about another way to get Millennials to give back: