If you have ever received a phone call or letter from your alma mater asking for a donation, you know just how out of touch schools can be with recent graduates. Graduates in their early 20s are just starting their lives. Most have hefty loan bills to pay back and aren’t quite settled into their careers. This stability doesn’t come until later. Sometimes much later.

While some young graduates choose to move back home to save money, others are stretching themselves thin working multiple jobs. How, then, can schools ask for such large donations to a group that has barely had time to make money?

Why Colleges Ask Recent Graduates to Donate

Here is the thought process on why some colleges ask young alumni for donations.

  • They want to get them in the habit of donating. Some colleges feel that asking for donations early on can get graduates comfortable contributing money. Even a small donation helps and hopefully paves the way for future donations.

  • College is still fresh in their minds. Another reason why colleges contact recent graduates for money is because they recently went through the process. They feel this connection to their alma mater is stronger compared to if they reached out in five to 10 years.

A Culture of Giving is Most Important

Reaching out and engaging with recent graduates is never a bad thing. In fact, getting them in the habit of supporting your school is important. What hurts schools is that they make their mission completely and primarily money driven.

A better approach is to shift your focus to creating a culture of giving. Welcome all types of involvement, such as mentoring current students, contributing to the alumni blog, or joining a reunion committee. As you strengthen relationships in these early years, graduates will be more willing to donate as they can afford to.

Tips for Engaging Young Alumni

Before asking for donations, nurture your relationships with alumni. Here are a few tips for doing so.

  • Make it personal. Alumni often get lumped into one group. But, new alumni are different from mature alumni in terms of stability, income, and loan debt. Personalize your communications. This builds stronger connections and shows graduates where they fit into your fundraising program.

  • Focus on a single goal. If there is something in particular that your school needs (library renovation, new coffeehouse, 100 trees planted), use this as an attainable goal for your alums to work toward. Having a concrete objective is motivating and helps donors see the difference they can make.

  • Use social media. Recent graduates are part of the millennial or Gen Z groups. The majority are active on social media, so use these channels to your advantage. For example, Facebook and LinkedIn let you to create alumni groups to promote fundraising efforts.

Donations are important for your college or university, but this should never come before your relationships with students. For the first five years, stay in contact with graduates, ask for updated information and share info regarding homecoming and reunion activities. If you do ask for a donation, request something small like $25. As their career advances, they may be willing to give more.

Bottom line: Be a resource, partner and extension of your graduates’ lives. Don’t be the phone number they dread seeing on their caller ID.