Mining Your Data: From Students to Alumni

Your institution has enrolled a strong class of students, and a high percentage of them have persisted and are thriving academically. Now it is the senior year. In a few months, these students will graduate, and, if you do not engage them proactively now, you will lose your best opportunity to invite them to engage with you and give back to the institution as alumni.

A few figures to consider:

  • According to Eduventures’ 2008 study Transitioning Donors to Higher Gift Levels, almost half of all donors make their first gift to the institution more than 20 years before making a contribution at the major gift level.
  • According to the 2011 Capgemini and Merrill Lynch World Wealth Report, 32%—nearly a third—of high net-worth individuals (HNWIs) in North America are under age 55, an increase in the number of the young wealthy over previous annual reports.

These data speak to the importance of cultivating donors as early as possible. And as affinity with your institution develops while alumni are still students, managing the student-to-alumni transition is especially critical.

Key Indicators of Giving and Engagement

What can you learn about preparing students to become engaged alumni, based on the data you have (or could collect) on your current alumni? Kevin MacDonell, business analyst for the Office of External Relations at Dalhousie University and author of the CoolData blog, lists a number of indicators that his research has shown to be predictive of future giving or alumni engagement at Dalhousie:

  • A student’s involvement in activities such as varsity sports, the debate club, student government, or a fraternity or sorority
  • Whether the student lived on or off campus
  • How long an alum kept their university web login active post-graduation
  • Whether the student has given the institution an email address other than an “email for life” address provided to them
  • Number of terms spent studying at the institution
  • Number of degrees they hold
  • The region the student came from

Student Activities as a Predictor of Future Giving

For example, MacDonell undertook a project recently to identify the predictive indicators of planned giving at Dalhousie University.

MacDonell found that, among alumni age 50 or older:

  • Of donors with planned giving expectancy, 91.3% had engaged in at least one student activity during the time on campus (participation in varsity sports, campus clubs, and student government had all been coded in the database)
  • Of donors without planned giving expectancy, only 57.4% had engaged in at least one student activity

You can find the data here.

Note that further research could tell you which student activities are most clearly correlated with planned giving expectancy. Varsity sports are almost a given, but of other activities, which ones build lifetime affinity?

Besides empowering you to identify additional prospects for planned giving, this data (or findings correlating student activities with annual giving, for instance) also empowers you to identify students to focus on with a targeted student philanthropy initiative.

Suppose that rather than a traditional senior gift, you invite the student leaders on your campus to form a senior campaign committee. This approach models the interaction your institution desires with these students once they become alumni and places these students in an excellent position to model that interaction for their peers during the critical senior year.

For examples of what does and doesn’t work well, read our 2010 article “The Student–Alumni Transition: Encouraging Meaningful Giving.”

Student Volunteerism

Here’s one more example. Advancement professionals generally take it as a given that alumni volunteers are more likely to give back to the institution than alumni who do not volunteer; in fact, a December 2009 study by the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and VolunteerMatch found that in the average amount given to a nonprofit by volunteers is more than ten times that given by non-volunteers. We also know that the current generation of students is especially dedicated to volunteerism.

Here are some hypotheses you could test against your own student and young alumni population:

  • Are those students who volunteer in development-related activities likelier than other students to participate later as alumni volunteers?
  • Are those students likelier to give back to the institution as alumni?
  • If so, participation in which activities (phonathon, senior campaign, donor stewardship activities, interviewing alumni, etc.) makes the most difference?

A little research now, even if you have limited data available, might yield returns later.


To learn more, read our November 2011 article, “Engaging Future Donors While They Are Still Students.”

In This Issue

A Letter from Amit Mrig, President, Academic Impressions
Reviewing Your Data: What You Might Find
Data-Informed Recruitment and Enrollment
A Data-Informed Approach to Student Retention
Mining Your Data: From Students to Alumni