Cultivating Institutional Loyalty Among Millennials

Teacher & Students, Watching his Students

Many articles have been written about millennials being reluctant to financially support their alma maters. As fundraisers in higher education, we have to come to terms with the fact that our alumni will not automatically give back. In order to be successful in raising the necessary funds for our institution, we must create and cultivate philanthropy the moment our students become a part of our institution.

Traditional student philanthropy programs focus on pushing students to give their first gift while they are on campus. The hope is that the students will get a high from their first gift to their college and this will energize them into becoming loyal donors after they graduate. Unfortunately, many of these student gifts are transactional or given under great pressure from their peers. It is delusional for higher educational development professionals to think that traditional student philanthropy programs will create and cultivate philanthropy among our millennials.

As we already know, about 70 percent of our donations comes from individuals and another 15 percent come from foundations, including family foundations. Studies have shown that it takes 15 to 20 years for an individual to make a major gift (of $1 million or more). In addition, when an individual makes his/her 15th annual gift, the probability the donor will leave an estate gift increases by 80 percent. Our alumni are the life blood for our institutions and it is imperative that we cultivate institutional loyalty from the very beginning.

When millennials graduate, their institutional loyalty to their alma mater has not been solidified. In order to establish a strong bond to the institution, the entire campus needs to work at making a stronger and positive user experience. Attitudes toward giving are influenced by the student’s college experience. This starts with the admissions process and continues through interactions with faculty, residence life staff, career counselors, and finally with alumni volunteers and staff. At every touch point, the millennial generation expects a positive customer service.

Alumni who report a multitude of positive experiences with their institution, also reported higher levels of engagement through volunteer engagement and giving. This means that colleges and universities need to regularly examine each student touch points. If students are having a less than stellar user experience, then the chances of them giving back have been greatly diminished.

It is necessary for an institution to design various rites of passage and rituals that help students feel welcomed into a special, exclusive community. Individuals who believe they are members of a strong community are more motivated to support it. This means that the office of student affairs are providing programming for all students and that the first year programming is especially strong, providing services that are attentive to emotional well-being of the student population.

Institutions also need to have a strong career services office. This office needs to provide services for both students, as well as alumni. Interestingly, only 14 percent of millennials surveyed reported that they received guidance from their institution’s career services, and forty-five percent felt that the services provided are not beneficial. This is one of the last touch points a student has with an institution and it is imperative that the services provided by the institution’s career services are continually evaluated so that both students and alumni are satisfied.

Once students leave campus, institutions need to have in place multidimensional relationships with them and engage them in meaningful activities that advance the institutional mission. This means having a strong alumni relations office as well as mentoring faculty to continue engaging with their past students. By keeping these individuals engaged through college publications, departmental newsletters or bringing them back to campus for academic conferences, the institution can continue to cultivate and solidify institutional loyalty.

Even though fundraisers cannot produce philanthropy, we can assist our institutions in cultivating institutional loyalty. This loyalty will motivate them into giving back to their alma mater.

From Millennial Donors, Little Loyalty to Alma Mater. (2014, September 8). Retrieved December 27, 2014, from

Langley, J. (2014, July). Cultivating a Culture of Philanthropy: New Approaches to New Realities. Retrieved December 28, 2014, from

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: