Alumni donations on the rise

Alissa Ricci

The percentage of alumni who donate to the University increased from 18 to 19 percent during the 2010 fiscal year, according to Heather Potts Brown, director of Annual Giving, and Cathleen Parsons-Nikolic, associate vice president for Development Operations. The 1 percent jump reflects the addition of approximately 1,500 donors, many of whom are first time contributors, and a 10.7 percent increase in the number of undergraduate alumni donors from last year. 

Strategic and segmented fundraising efforts directed toward alumni helped the University exceed its fundraising goal of $41 million for the 2010 fiscal year. At the conclusion of the fiscal year on May 31, the final fundraising total was $48.6 million. 

“We’ve reached out to alumni through mail, phone calls, e-solicitations, e-newsletters, events and Alumni Relations’ other electronic media such as their Facebook page,” Parsons-Nikolic said. “We’ve expanded our ways of communicating with alumni.” 

Fundraising efforts have also been coordinated across the University so alumni are not bombarded with multiple solicitations from different programs on an irregular basis, she said. 

Alumni donations to the Villanova Annual Fund will help the University carry out initiatives proposed by the Strategic Plan and support the day-to-day operating needs of the University. 

The participation rate, or alumni giving rate, describes the number of alumni who make donations. Historically, the University’s undergraduate participation rate has lagged behind the rates of peer institutions. 

The University of Notre Dame, for instance, has a participation rate of 42 percent, down from 50 percent last year. Comparably, the participation rates for Bucknell University, Boston College and Georgetown University are 34, 26 and 25 percent. 

A new series of advertisements was launched last fall to help educate the Villanova community about the participation rate at Villanova versus other institutions.

“The purpose of these ads is to create awareness of Villanova’s giving rate,” Brown said. “In our solicitations we emphasize the tangible contributions that donations will make to the University. For instance, last fall we encouraged giving on the basis of increased financial aid for students and their families during the current economic crisis.” 

The University’s effort to increase the participation rate now focuses heavily on young alumni, or those who have graduated in the past decade, according to Brown and Parsons-Nikolic.

“Historically, a lower percentage of young alumni give back,” Parsons-Nikolic said.

In the past decade, Villanova has graduated the largest classes in its history, yet these classes have the lowest percentage of alumni making gifts to the University.

Participation rates of alumni who have graduated within the last 10 years are as low as 4 percent, according to Brown.

In contrast, alumni in their 50th reunion years have participation rates closer to 40 percent. In order to increase participation rates of young alumni, a more streamlined, thoughtful approach has been developed to appeal to this constituency, according to Parsons-Nikolic and Brown. 

“We aim to engage young alumni and create a sense of loyalty to the University after they’ve graduated,” Brown said. 

The most significant changes involve the senior class gift, the first opportunity for students to make a contribution right before they graduate.

Graduating students will now use a pledge card to contribute to their senior class gift and can pay online using a credit card or over the phone through the University Phonathon. 

“This new method mimics the way we solicit alums and prepares students for the way they will be asked to give in the future,” Brown said. “So far, it has been very successful, and we will continue doing it.”

In the past, the senior class gift would count a senior as a donor by collecting a $5 cover charge at a senior event. However, this made giving seem like a perfunctory duty, rather than a meaningful, philanthropic gift, Parsons-Nikolic said.

In addition, the Office of University Advancement is working with the Office of the Registrar to streamline fundraising efforts to graduating seniors only. 

The creation of the Young Alumni Circle is another effort to increase young alumni participation rates. It is composed of alumni who give $100 per year for each year after graduation. Students will be asked to join the Young Alumni Circle once they’ve graduated. Monthly giving programs are being established for young alumni. The continued efforts to increase alumni donations are crucial to the University’s future. 

“Anything students can do to encourage giving is appreciated,” Parsons-Nikolic said. “Fundraising requires a lot of work and is very competitive. A gift of any size has an impact on our funds raised, which will positively impact the quality of the Villanova experience.”