The following FAQ document on counting gifts from alumni was developed by the CASE Commission on Alumni Relations in consultation with the CASE Commission on Philanthropy. It was approved by both commissions in October 2007.
The CASE Management and Reporting Standards1 provide guidelines for reporting alumni giving statistics, but there remains some ambiguity in how these statistics should be calculated.
Transparency and honesty in reporting is critical to maintain high standards in education. Only if institutions consistently follow the same rules and definitions can effective comparisons can be made. Advancement professionals have a special duty to observe the highest standards of personal and professional conduct. It is very important that all institutions adhere to the definitions, not only when reporting to CASE and the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), but when reporting to the media as well.
Q: Should graduating seniors be included in alumni giving data?
A: Graduating seniors present an interesting dilemma. Often seniors make a gift in the latter part of their senior year but by the time the data is reported, they are alumni. Therefore, counting philanthropic gifts from seniors is acceptable as long as all seniors are counted among alumni of record. In other words, if gifts from graduating seniors are included in alumni giving data, then the complete cohort—all graduating seniors—must be included in the total alumni census. It is not acceptable to include seniors who donate but to exclude seniors who do not donate when calculating overall alumni giving. To report fair and accurate data, any donors reported in the numerator must have their entire cohort in the denominator.
Q: Is it appropriate to ask alumni for a minuscule amount of money ($1, for example) just to boost the percentage of alumni giving?
A: No. Our mission to build support for our institutions is not properly served by attempting to manipulate reporting data. Energies are best spent on sound practices to increase institutional support from alumni. Whether initiated by advancement staff or volunteers, it does not build greater support for the institution to ask alumni for “an extra dollar” to boost the class participation percentage. On the other hand, asking seniors in the Class of 2008 to give $20.08 as a means to capture their interest and encourage a habit of giving would be acceptable.
Q: Is it acceptable to count other income from alumni (such as magazine subscriptions, reunion fees, membership dues) toward alumni giving?
A: No. A good rule of thumb is to consider the donor’s intention in giving this money. If the donor intended to make a philanthropic gift to the institution, then it is a gift and should be reported. If the donor wrote a check to receive something in return—a magazine, admission to an event or membership in an organization—then the amount should not be considered in alumni giving totals, even if the donor receives a receipt from the institution.
Q: Is it appropriate to count a single donation over multiple years to boost the percentage of alumni giving?
A: When a donor makes a single gift with the expectation that the gift is a one-time gift, it is not appropriate to count the donor in more than one reporting year. Multi-year gifts and pledges are acceptable as long as the donor made the intention of a multiple-year commitment. Taking a single gift and counting it over multiple years without the donor's knowledge or intention is not appropriate.
Q: Is it appropriate to avoid keeping track of alumni or avoid taking steps to find “lost” alumni as a means to boost alumni giving participation?
A: No. Advancement professionals have an obligation to update alumni data whenever feasibly possible. Many best practices are available to advancement professionals on keeping alumni data current. In addition, several commercial vendors provide services to assist institutions in finding and tracking alumni. Not tracking or finding alumni is not in the long term best interests of the institution nor is it ethical.
Q: Is it appropriate to solicit fewer alumni to drive up giving percentages?
A: No. Again, our goal should not be merely to drive up the percentage of alumni who give. Our goal should be to work toward getting more alumni to support the institution.
In summary, advancement professionals should be actively working to increase philanthropic support from alumni for the long-term benefit of our institutions, and should not merely manipulate the reporting data.
1The standards are now available as the CASE Reporting Standards & Management Guidelines, 4th edition, published in 2009.