The Advancement Blog

Energize your annual giving: Reach young donors

by Dana Gresko

Key to any fundraising organization is understanding what motivates donors.This is especially important for institutions as the pool of young alumni donors continues to grow.

But in the world of Advancement, "young" is complex.

Royall and Company’s comprehensive research into charitable giving reveals both challenging trends in young donor activity and clear differences in the behavior of two “under thirty-five” groups that are sometimes lumped together: “Youngest Alumni” (those graduating within the past four years) and “Career Starters” (those graduating 5–10 years ago).

To energize partner schools’ Annual Giving campaigns, we mine results for strategies to engage Youngest Alumni and Career Starters who, our studies reveal, are more likely to become the lifelong—and potentially major—donors who sustain much development revenue.

Pleasing a tough crowd

On average, only 6.3% of Youngest Alumni and 3% of Career Starters contribute to their alma maters. These low participation rates are cause for concern and reflect a broader cultural shift in recent graduate giving—a headwind that Royall’s innovative strategies help to allay.

Unlike past generations, today’s youngest donors are 75% more likely to donate to a favorite charity than to their alma mater, perhaps because the number of 501(c)(3) organizations has nearly tripled in the past twenty-five years. This buffet of competing philanthropic choices gives today’s young donors a chance to make nuanced donation decisions that reflect their interests and life-experiences. Consistent with our long-standing commitment to targeted and personal messaging, Royall builds effective annual giving campaigns that also reflect the interests and life-experiences of prospective donors.

Our data reveals, for example, that Youngest Alumni and Career Starters contribute differently, and the differences reflect the disposable incomes of each life-stage.

 

These distinct results tell us we must tailor unique campaign strategies and messages for each group. Youngest Alumni—still excited to have crossed the podium in a cap and gown—respond to messages that enthusiastically recall their coming-of-age college experience. Reaching Career Starters, conversely, requires messages that relate to beginning new jobs and climbing corporate ladders.

Royall-partner schools have found that offering career services like alum-to-alum mentoring and local networking events helps to encourage Career Starters—who have more disposable income—to contribute to their alma maters. This kind of message segmentation, coupled with rigorous analyses of giving histories, enables us to help partner schools to improve participation rates and revenue.

Competition for philanthropy dollars is increasing. Is your institution keeping up? Take our diagnostic to find out.

From recent grads to golden years

As many advancement teams are aware, the immediate ROI of targeting young donors is not always impressive—or even existent. But Royall has proven it’s a worthy endeavor and can be done more efficiently and effectively than ever before thanks to actionable data and predictive analytics. As graduating class sizes swell, it is vital to maintain or grow donor participation rates. And, of course, all donations, no matter how small, add up.

Our research confirms, in fact, that as youngest alumni age into older donors the size of their gifts increases over time, and 85% of major donors made their first contribution during their first ten years after college—when they are Youngest Alumni or Career Starters. Royall’s differentiated approaches to this important cohort will help partner schools to instill a spirt of collegiate philanthropy that can energize their annual funds now and for years to come.


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