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How Fundraisers Can Use Alumni Life Stage to Guide Their Interaction

Current Engagement Strategies Aren’t Working

Understanding the life stage of your alumni helps you engage with them correctly. When your message resonates with your constituents, you enjoy stronger fundraising results and the opportunity for long-term growth. However, over the past 15 years most higher education institutions have witnessed a decline in alumni participation. But it wasn’t always like this. Our research has shown that alumni from Reeher Community institutions who graduated between 1970-1989 have increased their giving since graduation and that giving tended to peak around 10-20 years after graduation before declining.

Since the mid-1980s, participation peaks right after graduation and then steadily declines. This trend has continued to today. We believe the high participation right after graduation can be contributed to the industry shift where fundraising became more deliberate and was the onset of the senior class giving trend. We have found that students will give senior gifts, but only a minority in each graduating class will repeat the gift the following year.

Recent grads are far less likely to donate again, which means that the institution’s retention rate can be in jeopardy. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, since they are “Last Year But Unfortunately Not This” (LYBUNTs), they frequently attract the lion’s share of marketing attention and draw precious marketing resources that could and should be focused on more likely prospects that result in generating more donors.

Using Life Stage to Segment Alumni Effectively

Reeher works with our customers to use data to determine how to segment alumni, then develop targeted programs and appeals that align with their changing needs. Research shows that the majority of alumni of any given institution want something from their alma mater after they graduate. Exactly what they need – and what they expect – can vary greatly by an individual’s interests, life stage and affinity to the school. The key to engaging with alumni is to determine what your alumni need, what your institution needs and where those two overlap.

What Do Alumni Respond to for During Each Life Stage? 

For example, as alumni enter different life stages, their needs change, sometimes drastically. Your specific alumni group has unique traits, but here are some of the broad trends we’ve gleaned from our research:

  • 20s: Facing student loans and other major expenses on their own (car, apartment, etc.), young alumni may not be ready to engage with your university on a financial level, but they do crave engagement. They want social connections, help getting started in their career and to find a life partner. They’re seeking career and family foundation, and they’re doing a lot of it online. This group lives on Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, and tends to respond well to making connections via social media.
  • 30s and 40s: This age group is primarily focused on career advancement and personal striving. The older portion may also be moving into a career transition, along with alumni in their 50s.
  • 40s, 50s and 60s: Starting in their 40s, many alumni are seeking intellectual personal enrichment, a focus that extends into their 70s and beyond. We also see many people incorporating social personal enrichment into their lives starting in their 50s.

This kind of data can help you chart a path toward matching the needs of your alumni and institution as they evolve, resulting in more targeted tactics, more engaged constituents, stronger results and long-term growth.

Fundraising organizations can raise more money and spend less doing it when they have easy access to their data. After two years in the Reeher Community, institutions see an 20% increase in major gifts. Check out our infographic to learn how they were able to increase their major gifts. 


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