Historically, many institutions had more male students than female students, though that has changed. Women now comprise the majority of first-time students on campus and are enrolling in graduate and professional schools at historic rates.
While the majority of students on campus and, increasingly, alumni, are women, giving to colleges and universities by this growing population is often less than that of their male counterparts. But women do give to other causes: 77% of female millennial alumni have given to their favorite non-profit cause, but only 44% have given to their alma maters (compared with 56% of male alumni).
The issue is that many colleges and universities are not offering the kind of engagement and connection high-powered and wealthy alumnae want with their alma mater. The Women’s Institute at The Lilly School of Philanthropy highlights that female donors want greater involvement with organizations they support, meaningful leadership opportunities, qualified objective information, and peer-to-peer connections.
Oregon State University (OSU) has approached this challenge with a dedicated giving circle that features tiered membership levels, which increase accessibility to millennial women. The circle also provides a chance to connect alumnae with the institution via digital channels, building in web-based voting to their circle to combat geographical challenges.
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Every year, each giving circle member at OSU contributes between $250 and $1,000 to support university projects. Academic departments and other campus units submit proposals for circle members to vet. Circle members conduct site visits as part of the review process, highlighting the connection to the institution as a component of membership. Then, members vote online to select winning projects. The online voting component makes OSU’s circle stand out because members don’t have to live nearby to vote. The circle then funds the projects that receive the most votes from circle members.
In 2015, the giving circle at the OSU Foundation awarded more than $80,000 to 13 initiatives across campus. The circle funds both projects that are of interest to female alumni and students (e.g., a women in physics conference) as well as projects that are not as specific to women (e.g., stipends to facilitate active learning in large lecture courses).
OSU has noted that the giving circle helps prepare female donors for increased philanthropic involvement with the Foundation and engages them with the institution in more meaningful and targeted ways. Giving circles are also an interactive way to engage and cultivate board talent.
"What we have seen is that the giving circle is a gateway for women to become involved in philanthropy. Some of them are already very philanthropic, but for some this has been a great way to onboard them to giving at OSU," says Kellie Parker, Senior Associate Director of Annual Giving at the OSU Foundation.
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How one university boosted alumni engagement