Alumni Support, a Steady Force in Educational Philanthropy
Government funding of United States higher education institutions has declined in recent years. One 2017 study found that inflation-adjusted state funding for public colleges and universities dropped $9 billion since the Great Recession. In contrast, private support of higher education institutions increased over that period, fueled by support from alumni, both degreed and non-degreed. In addition, alumni support their alma maters by volunteering, through communications, and by continued participation in events.
The latest research brief from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s AMAtlas uses data from the Voluntary Support of Education survey to highlight current and historical patterns in alumni support for their alma maters.
“Universities receive philanthropic support from several types of donors but the core donors are, and have historically been, alumni,” said Ann E. Kaplan, CASE’s senior director of the VSE survey. “In some instances, their attachment to alma mater begins even before they set foot on campus and continues long after they leave.”
Among the brief’s main findings:
- In fiscal 2018, alumni contributed $12.15 billion or 26 percent of the $46.73 billion raised by U.S. colleges and universities. That is 6.9 percent more than the previous year.
- Much of the growth in alumni giving has been in the form of capital purpose gifts, which are gifts for endowment, property, buildings, equipment, and loan funds.
- When alumni give to support an institution’s current operations, they primarily direct those gifts to support financial aid, athletic programs and academic divisions or departments of study within a university.
- Total support of colleges and universities ebbs and flows with alumni support. Between 1988 and 2018, alumni support grew 495 percent, while total support rose 470 percent.
Much of the growth in alumni support can be attributed to new technologies and improved practices for locating and maintaining contact with alumni, a reflection of the maturation of alumni relations as a profession and the advancement practice as an industry.
Toward that end, CASE is currently field-testing a new framework for viewing and measuring alumni engagement developed by a global taskforce of alumni relations experts that CASE convened several years ago.
“Alumni attachment with alma mater means far more than just philanthropic support; they are engaged as volunteers, they interact on social and in other ways, and they participate in a broad range of experiential activities. Thus, CASE members are refining an industry-wide framework to help measure these activities,” said Fred Weiss, CASE’s chief research and data officer.
CASE—the Council for Advancement and Support of Education—is a global, not-for-profit membership association with a vision to advance education to transform lives and society.
We are the home for advancement professionals, inspiring, challenging, and equipping them to act effectively and with integrity to champion the success of their institutions. CASE defines the competencies and standards for the profession of advancement, leading, and championing their dissemination and application with more than 97,000 advancement professionals at 3,100 member institutions in 80 countries.
Broad and growing communities of professionals gather under the global CASE umbrella. Currently these include alumni relations, development services, communications, fundraising, government relations, and marketing. These professionals are at all stages of their career and may be working in universities, schools, colleges, cultural institutions, or other not-for-profits. CASE uses the intellectual capital and professional talents of an army of volunteers to advance its work, and our membership includes many corporate partners in the education sector.
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