The 7 Faces of Philanthropy: Part 1
Picture two alumni. Both had positive experiences at their alma mater—both were involved with extracurriculars, earned good grades, and formed lasting friendships. After graduation, both alumni went on to have successful careers in their field, started families, and now look back fondly on their college days.
Yet, one of these alumni donates thousands of dollars a year to their alma mater, while the other has never even dropped a cent for the annual fundraiser. What gives?
A More Effective University Advancement Strategy
All of your alumni are different, so their motivations for giving will also be different. Having a one-size-fits-all university advancement strategy will fail to engage the diverse range of alumni and produce halfhearted results at best. Tapping into the psychology of each individual alum is the key to successful fundraising.
Though many alumni enjoy their time in university, not all of them choose to give back, even if they have the means to do so. Over time, your alumni may lose their emotional connection to their alma mater, even while their capacity to give increases. Thus, restoring and rebuilding that emotional connection should be a priority for any university advancement team. After all, each of your alumni has a cause that drives them to do good, and successful fundraising is a matter of matching that cause to each alum.
Philanthropic alumni can be divided into 7 archetypes. In this 2-part article, we’ll explain the psychology of each archetype and exactly how your university advancement team can motivate each type of alumni to give.
1. The Communitarian (26%)
The majority of people who give fall into this category. Communitarian alumni are driven by a desire to help their community—they’re the ones that will respond best to grant requests for student startups or support for business owners stricken by COVID-19. These alumni are driven by a strong sense of belonging to their respective communities and will put in the necessary work to ensure these communities thrive.
As 75% of Communitarians are successful business owners, these alumni recognize that helping their communities also reinforces business ties. Attending charity board meetings or working with influential local nonprofits allows Communitarians to promote themselves and their businesses as stewards of good. Thus, Communitarian alumni would likely be interested in sponsoring campus events or partnering with university initiatives that benefit local communities.
Moreover, Communitarian alumni are likely to settle down in an area close to their alma mater, thus reinforcing their physical ties to their community. For instance, a UCLA alumna may describe her decision to give to a scholarship for first-gen students from the LA area by saying, “I’ve spent most of my life in Los Angeles, and this neighborhood is my home. I choose to give to causes that impact my community, because that’s where my roots are.” Communitarians easily identify with the causes that they donate to and view themselves as socially responsible to help out those around them.
Even if your alumni have moved halfway across the world after graduation, they still remain part of the alumni community. So, by creating an online platform on which alumni can come together, your university can remind alumni of the strength of this network. Older alumni can benefit their younger counterparts with career advice and mentorship, while alumni of all ages can come together to share stories and words of support. Especially in troubled times, your graduates need to feel like they will always be supported by their alumni community.
2. The Repayer (10%)
Feeling a sense of obligation to the university, these alumni give in response to a life-changing experience. Maybe an influential professor inspired them to pursue their dream career, or a university connection helped them land a high-paying job after graduation. Perhaps the university’s biomedical research lab helped discover a treatment for an illness that threatened a close family member. Whatever your university’s impact, these alumni want to pay it forward.
Social exchange theory explains why Repayers are so dedicated in their philanthropy. The theory, which defines an alum’s relationship with their alma mater in terms of costs and benefits, shows that alumni who have received a great deal of value from their university will want to give back a similar value in return.
In fact, studies have shown that alumni giving is directly related to the amount of money that the university spent on the alum. In essence, the greater the impact the university has made on an alum’s professional and personal life, the more likely an alum is to give back.
However, that relationship of giving and taking extends far beyond graduation—after all, a university can continue to provide significant value to alumni beyond their academic years. So, in order to motivate these alumni to give, university advancement teams should continue that relationship of giving, whether it be helping alumni reconnect with old friends, see photos of their college days, or receive timely advice about retirement. When it comes to university advancement, you should always give before you ask.
3. The Altruist (9%)
To these alumni, doing good just feels right. They respond empathetically to urgent causes, such as time-sensitive COVID-19 relief efforts, and don’t demand anything in return. These alumni will prioritize the causes that align with their personal missions and values and believe strongly in social responsibility and purpose. Simply put, the “warm glow” of giving is enough for Altruist alumni to do good.
However, Altruist alumni also receive indirect benefits from their generosity. The theory of ‘impure altruism’ in relation to philanthropy shows that many donors are motivated by the personal, intangible benefits of giving back. These intangible rewards range from increased group affiliation to enhanced prestige, respect, and friendship. For example, if an alum has remained close with college friends after graduation, they may experience an increase in social status from donating to their alma mater.
This is why fundraisers that show alumni which of their friends have already donated are so effective. After seeing their peers’ generosity, alumni will want to establish themselves as similarly generous and empathetic individuals, thus solidifying their social identities.
On the other hand, some alumni are primarily motivated by the psychological benefits of donating. If being a graduate of their university is a strong part of an alum’s personal identity, giving back to the institution will raise their own self-esteem. For a large portion of Altruist alumni, viewing oneself as a philanthropic individual is enough to motivate them to give.
4. The Dynast (8%)
To these alumni, doing good is a family tradition. Coming from generations of philanthropists, Dynast alumni strive to continue their family’s legacy of giving back.
These alumni will enjoy having managerial positions that allow them to influence the allocation of funds, and they value opportunities for further involvement.
As shown by research conducted at Marquette University, alumni that come from legacy families have uniquely strong emotional ties with their alma mater. In a 2007 study, Weerts and Ronca refer to this as the investment model. Since Dynasts’ connections to the university stretch over a longer period of time, they are more likely to view the school as a source of identity than their counterparts. When multiple generations can share similar values and experiences, their investment in the university increases—and so does their desire to donate.
To encourage these alumni to give, your university advancement team should emphasize the institution’s long-standing mission and values. By sharing photos of momentous sports victories, publishing features about famous alumni, or encouraging generations of alumni to share their stories, your university can demonstrate its continuous excellence throughout the years.
Each face of philanthropy offers something different through their motivations, interests, and expectations. Appealing to your alumni through a broad depersonalized approach doesn’t demonstrate to them that you understand and value their uniqueness. Inviting a Dynast to a charity auction won’t nearly have the same sway as inviting a Socialite to that same event. Likewise, when you are trying to appeal to an Investor, it's important to facilitate conversations about long term returns on investment.
When you understand which of the 7 faces of philanthropy each of your prospects is, your university advancement program will be much more successful in motivating them to give.
This concludes Part 1 of ‘The 7 Faces of Philanthropy.’ Check Part 2 of the series here.
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