With the rising cost of college, students’ growing transactional view about education, and skepticism about the impact a gift to their alma mater will make, increasing young alumni donations is an uphill battle. But what if you could get students in the habit of giving before they were alumni?
In the next few decades, current students may become your major gift donors. Creating a compelling senior gift is a perfect opportunity to establish a culture of giving among future young alumni that will increase their affinity for long-term philanthropic support to your institution.
Senior gift campaign—a missed opportunity to create a giving culture
Senior gift campaigns often ask graduating students to donate towards a small tangible item, like a bench or a tree. For the student, donating towards a physical object fails to satisfy their desire to have their donation make an impact. Tangible senior gifts leave soon-to-be alumni with the impression that philanthropy at their alma mater is small-scale and low-impact causing donor melt.
Three approaches for impact-driven senior gifts
Senior giving initiatives should focus on passion-driven gifts to increase involvement and create a culture of giving towards the students’ alma mater. Here are three approaches to the senior gift campaign that demonstrate to graduating seniors the value in donating to their alma mater.
1. Fund a compelling campaign over time
Bryant University replaced their tangible senior gift with an endowed class scholarship fund. Over the course of five years, all young alumni solicitations from the senior class focused on the scholarship, thereby boosting retention. At the five-year reunion, the scholarship was awarded to a student, showing young alumni the meaningful impact of donating to their alma mater.
2. Offer a bounded choice of funds
Advancement leaders help students identify a few high-interest causes on campus that help to overcome the challenge of weak class identity. Giving students the power to choose funds helps more senior leaders get involved in fundraising and allows other students to donate to causes that they feel are impactful. This structure also enables future segmented asks based on affinity data collected during the senior gift campaign.
3. Count any university gift towards campaign goals
The University of Rochester transitioned to donor-driven student philanthropy, allowing seniors to give to any of the 200+ funds on campus. Counting any gift towards the senior gift campaign goal capitalizes on students individual passions and achieves the goal of linking donor passions with funding opportunities on campus.
To encourage a long-term culture of giving and a strong donor pipeline, focus senior gift campaigns on supporting a cause rather than one-time tangible gifts.