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The 7 Faces of Philanthropy: Part 2

June 18, 2020

This is Part 2 of our 7 Faces of Philanthropy article, where we explain the psychology of each philanthropic archetype and exactly how your university can motivate each type of alumni to give. If you haven’t already read Part 1, we suggest doing so before reading Part 2.

How to Increase Alumni Donations

All of your alumni are all different, so the motivations behind different alumni donations will also be different. Having a one-size-fits-all advancement strategy will fail to engage the diverse range of alumni and produce suboptimal results. Tapping into the psychology of each individual alum is the key to successfully boosting alumni donations.

Philanthropic alumni can be divided into 7 basic groups. In part 2 of this article, we’ll explain the psychology of each group and exactly how your university can motivate each type of alumni to give.

5. The Investor (15%) 

Investors prioritize receiving a return on the money they donate. These alumni are pragmatic and view their donations as business transactions where their money will make a strong and measurable impact. They are likely to pay close attention to budgets and metrics and like to see clear allocations of where their money is going.

Impact investing, known as “the ethical investment strategy,” focuses on using capital to address social and environmental issues. In this increasingly popular form of investment, money is used to generate positive change alongside providing a financial return. For instance, Investors would likely focus on using alumni donations to improve educational or employment opportunities for students, thus building a better future for the next generation.

To appease Investor alumni, universities should show a track record of effective leadership and financial management. Investors are interested in numbers, facts, and concrete evidence, and universities should have metrics readily available to demonstrate impact. By showing statistics such as the increase in minority student enrollment after the creation of a new scholarship or the change in the employment rate for students enrolled in a career preparation program, universities can demonstrate the direct impact of alumni donations.

6. The Socialite (11%)

Socialites particularly enjoy the social aspect of giving; galas, charity auctions, banquets, and reunions are events that these alumni flock to. Socialites enjoy meeting others and attending events for a good cause, as they view such events as a reinforcement of their social identity. The feeling of being valued and appreciated by their community is a powerful force that drives these types of alumni donations. 

It may seem difficult to engage Socialites in a time when in-person events are limited or downright impossible, but the social aspects of philanthropy don’t have to stop behind the screen. Offering virtual opportunities for social gatherings—such as Zoom cocktail nights, concert live streams, and virtual cooking or craft classes—can help universities provide value to alumni who prioritize social interaction.       

With their active social lives put on pause, Socialite alumni are also likely to be hit the hardest by the social distancing requirements of COVID-19. During this time, it is especially important for universities to show they care about and understand Socialite alumni’s need for connection. Providing a strong digital support network for alumni who may be experiencing loneliness or isolation will demonstrate your university’s devotion to alumni wellbeing, while simultaneously encouraging alumni engagement with their alma mater.

7. The Devout (21%)

To this group, alumni donations are moral obligations that align with their personal set of values. Devout alumni are less interested in a precise allocation of their funds, instead relying on a relationship of trust with the university to use alumni donations for a good cause. To encourage these alumni to give, universities must first demonstrate a history of promoting ethical causes, as well as emphasize a strong, long-lasting set of core values and beliefs. 

The tradition of religious giving has been practiced for centuries and remains strong to this day. Overall, religious giving makes up the largest percentage of American philanthropy, comprising almost three-quarters of all national donations. Findings from Giving USA’s special report on religion show that 62% of religious households engage in philanthropy, compared to 46% of households with no religious affiliation. For many people, religious values are a constant reminder to practice financial generosity.

Furthermore, alumni from religiously affiliated universities are likely to be driven to promote their universities’ belief systems when they give. After all, universities exist to convey morals as well as knowledge to future generations, and Devout alumni will want to promote these morals with their donations. Shirley Hoogstra, the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), stated, “the number one reason why donors make big gifts, like extraordinary gifts, to a Christian college is that they believe a faith-infused education is the hope of the world.” 

In general, Devout alumni will want to see universities making a positive impact on the world by encouraging students to volunteer in communities in need, funding life-saving medical research, or offering scholarships to students who could not otherwise afford tuition. Devout alumni are also likely to be touched by personal stories of students who found their donations life-changing; publishing feature articles or video interviews with such students will provide a human angle on the difference that alumni donations can make. By continuously emphasizing your university’s track record of positive impact, you can assure Devout alumni that their money will support a good cause.

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, you will be much more successful in motivating them to give.

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