This year, the amount of money in Ithaca College’s annual fund is double what it was 10 years ago. However, despite the increase, the number of alumni donating to the fund has decreased by approximately half.
Many colleges and universities across the country are seeing a similar trend. While higher–education institutions are pulling in record dollars, the number of individual donors, specifically alumni, is significantly declining. Alumni donations at the college constitute a significant part of the funding that goes toward student life, including the student learning experience, financial aid, building and grounds maintenance and student organizations, sports and counseling.
A recent study found that the most significant indicator of potential alumni giving is an individual’s ability to identify and connect with their alma mater. This connection can happen on the basis of many different aspects of a person’s identity, including their connection to academics, social life, school spirit or specific parts of their identity. People give money to institutions and organizations not only because it helps them maintain a social identity but also because they want to transform lives and make an impact. However, this can be a difficult thing for the college to tap into, as requests for alumni donations are most frequently made via telethon or through direct mail, both of which inherently lack personal connection.
Just as the college should work to build genuine connections with alumni, alumni should work to maintain these connections, too. Although they have left campus, many still reap the benefits of Ithaca College’s programs and resources — resources that are still being used by thousands of students and rely heavily on alumni funding. Taking this into consideration, it would be in the college’s best interest to put resources toward showcasing the monumental impacts the annual fund has on student life. As a result, alumni will likely be more willing to donate to the student experience.
As the college pushes out its five-year strategic plan, it seems there is no better time to do so.
The plan highlights the college’s plans to build partnerships within the community and cultivate an on-campus culture of diversity, equity and inclusion. It also focuses on building stronger community connections — both among current college community members and its alumni. As these plans take effect, it is the perfect time for the college to inspire and rebuild connections with its alumni, many of whom are distanced from the college and its mission as it exists today.
The 2019 Cortaca Jug was a primary example of the ways in which the college can use a sense of community to boost school spirit among students, faculty and alumni alike. Prior to the game, college administrators organized Cortaca Jug Giving Challenges that encouraged alumni giving. The challenge established an alumni donation competition between the college and its rival, SUNY Cortland, and generated positive results: The college won the challenge with 938 alumni participants compared to Cortland’s 905 participants.
As the college continues to roll out its new strategic plan, it should consider this an opportunity to truly rebrand and build new, genuine and fun connections with all members of the college community — past, present and future. These genuine connections will significantly benefit the college’s ability to draw in the money it needs to support students as they continue to explore their identities, passions and future endeavors.