Generational trends impacting alumni relations

Generational trends impacting alumni relations

By Ellucian on Thursday, August 10, 2017


With more than 15 years of experience as a development executive, Robert Henry now shares his expertise with other advancement professionals through his work with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) association. He advises his members to embrace the latest industry trends by adopting new ways of approaching prospects and interpreting data.

Henry identifies the first trend as creating a culture of philanthropy. This trend stems from concerns about the role the millennial generation will play in future giving. “We know that in the next 8 to 10 years, millennials will make up 45 percent of the workforce,” he says, pointing out the tremendous impact millennials will have on the donor base. Millennials tend to reject institutional giving in favor of crowdfunding or direct support to individuals; a cause of concern for many universities.

“How do we target Millennials?” Henry asks. “The answer: Increase engagement. We know that this group wants to have an impact.” Matching the campaign to the prospect is critical for engaging millennials. “This audience won’t give out of loyalty,” he explains. “For our grandparents, education was a privilege, and they gave out of honor. For millennials, education is an expectation.”

The second critical trend concerns diversity, which has recently increased on college campuses. These days, students and alumni identify along lines of race, orientation, religion, and other factors but with more nuance and specificity. “How do we engage these constituents and connect with them in meaningful ways?” Henry posits.

Philanthropy becomes a challenge when students no longer identify along the same lines they once did. “Students today don’t put themselves in the boxes that that my generation did,” Henry says. “Students see diversity as extremely complex. It’s regional, it’s income — it’s all these pieces. Millennials check ‘other’; they don’t fit into neat boxes.” As a result, an alumni relations program for an affinity group won’t necessarily appeal to all members of that group.

Third, universities must gather and assess alumni engagement metrics. “People in the fundraising and philanthropy sphere have done a lot of work on how to track the success of their efforts,” Henry says. “We don’t have such metrics for alumni relations, but CASE is developing them now.”

Finally, Henry likes the trend toward online giving. Although people who give online tend to give less per donation, these donors often sign up for recurring gifts. Therefore, universities must look more at lifelong giving and less at what specific campaigns raise.

“Institutions will have to figure out how to encourage online giving while still providing donors with a feeling of connection,” Henry recommends. “People need to understand the power of those smaller gifts.”

ROBERT HENRY, Vice President, Education, CASE
Robert Henry is vice president of education for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), an association that serves educational institutions and advancement professionals. Before joining CASE, Henry was the director of individual giving at Yale University; assistant vice president for the University of Connecticut Foundation; and taught in Africa, Europe, Australia, and South America. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Murray State University and a master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University.

To learn how Ellucian can help your organization reach its advancement goals, please visit our Alumni Relations and Fundraising webpage.


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