Publications & Products
Volume 1, Issue 5

Revealing the Community College Alumni Donor

Using predictive models, four-year institutions develop profiles of alumni donors so that they can target efforts to those alumni most likely to give. Community colleges, however, have been unable to benefit from such tactics because a profile of their alumni donors did not exist. Now, thanks to groundbreaking research, some characteristics of community college alumni donors have been revealed—and are sure to provide new direction for two-year college administrators, fundraisers and alumni professionals.

Lisa Ann Skari, vice president for institutional advancement at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Wash., recently wrote her doctoral dissertation on the subject. Skari surveyed 7,330 community college alumni from 18 two-year institutions across the United States—a sample which she says is reflective of the country's community colleges in size, age and location. Only 15 percent of the alumni in this sample were donors to their community college alma mater in the past five years.

Skari says what she found surprised her: In general, community college alumni donors exhibited characteristics similar to that of alumni donors from four-year institutions. For example, community college donors had positive feelings toward their alma mater, valued their relationships with faculty and participated in extracurricular activities.

"I didn't expect student experience to be such a predictor of giving," Skari says. "I didn't think it would show up because community college students don't have a Greek system, dorm life or any of the things you would associate with a four-year institution."

Most community college donors surveyed were:

  • Female (62 percent)
  • White (85 percent)
  • Married (61 percent)
  • Live in close proximity to their community college alma mater
  • Have household incomes greater than $75,000
  • Received their associate degree from their alma matter (82 percent)
  • Transferred to a four-year institution (63 percent)

The finding that receipt of an associate degree increases an alumnus's possibility of giving is a boon for institutions, Skari says. She hopes this finding can help academic and development officials on community college campuses work together toward a common goal.

"For those on the development side of things, this allows us to open up the conversation with our academic colleagues about how student support can help both the student and the institution and why graduation is important," Skari says. "But also, once students have left, this shows that community colleges need to do a better job staying in touch with their alumni. There needs to be some relationship building for the future."

Also surprising to Skari was that most community college donors offered significant philanthropic support to other organizations. Almost 73 percent of community college alumni donors gave to another organization in the last five years with 36 percent of them giving specifically to their four-year alma mater.

This dual support of both their two- and four-year institutions challenges prior speculation that community college transfer students shift all of their allegiance and giving to their university. Skari believes her study should challenge the mindset of community college officials who have long thought there was no value in pursuing alumni relations efforts with transfer students.

Ultimately, Skari says her findings suggest that community colleges should focus their fundraising efforts on alumni over the age of 60 who attended the community college more than 20 years ago. Also, it would be preferable to try to cater to those with incomes in excess of $150,000—but since this information is often difficult to find, Skari suggests focusing on alumni who give to other organizations as a decent proxy.

"Again, most all of this mirrors what we see in similar studies of four-year college alumni donors," Skari says. "It's surprising. We thought we were so different at community colleges. We need to look at what our four-year colleagues are doing and what can we modify for our realities." 

This article is from the November 2011 issue of the Community College Advancement News.


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Community College Webinars
The Necessity of Developing a Community College Alumni Relations Program

Dec. 13, 2011
2-3 p.m. EST

Community colleges traditionally have not devoted much time and energy nurturing relationships with their former students. But as community colleges are increasingly looking to alumni for support in their fundraising efforts, the need for a solid alumni relations office is becoming transparent.

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