Student Philanthropy between Convocation and Commencement

Once you have invited students to take responsibility for the success of their alma mater and have adopted a campus-wide relationship management strategy to remove any "wedges" and facilitate a seamless and positive student experience, a third key step is to involve your undergraduates in student philanthropy. However, the majority of institutions leave career services, alumni networking, and messaging about the importance of philanthropy until the senior year and the senior gift drive. This approach misses three years of opportunities.

You can begin making an impact on student awareness by crafting compelling events prior to the senior year that emphasize their engagement in a lifetime community. Georgetown University, for example, has students file through the main administrative building to light candles with alumni on major declaration day, and also holds a "Careertoberfest" at which students have their resumes reviewed and learn about the career and networking resources they will have as alumni, while sipping cider and enjoying bratwurst and Halloween candy.

However, if you only organize a few events to raise awareness, you are missing your greatest opportunities. We interviewed Ben Jarrett, assistant director of advancement at Georgetown University, and Raj Bellani, associate provost and dean of students at the Rhode Island School of Design, to learn more about how to grow the seeds of lifetime engagement during the undergraduate years. They suggest:

  • Identifying ways for students to use their own resources and resourcefulness to educate their peers about private giving
  • Getting students connected with the alumni community earlier in the undergraduate life cycle, as early and as often as possible

Rely on Peer Leaders to Build Awareness

"Don't just buy everyone t-shirts. Build a program where students go out and educate other students about why they should give."
Ben Jarrett, Georgetown University

Give students the lead role in designing and implementing programs to build student awareness of how their education is funded. Because this both limits cost and allows you to rely on peers (who have more credibility and more avenues for communication than your staff), you will be able to realize greater gains.

For example, Georgetown has started a program in which two sophomores lead a team of 50 students (30 of which are in their first two years) who are each tasked with interviewing five students per month. The student volunteers reach out to their peers, inviting them to coffee or lunch and talking with them about opportunities to engage in university life and about how their education is funded. The volunteers then write up their notes on these peer interviews, recording the students' interests and their feelings about the school. Not only does this effort leverage peer-to-peer interactions to raise awareness, it also builds the groundwork for a powerful prospect database at almost no cost.

"Don't be afraid of letting students run such an effort. You want to train them and get them moving it forward so smoothly that you are barely needed. Trust the intelligence and motivation of your student leaders. You want them engaged, you want them to have responsibility, you want them to take a stake in the future of the institution."
Ben Jarrett, Georgetown University

Get Students Connected with Alumni Early

Secondly, Bellani and Jarrett suggest that you can achieve two critical aims by involving your young alumni in mentoring or coaching capacities early in the student experience:

  • Fostering students' commitment to a lifetime involvement with the institution and with the alumni community
  • Renewing alumni engagement with the institution shortly after graduation

Bellani and Jarrett recommend designing opportunities for students and alumni to network long before the senior year. "Many students in their first few years are ready to build a resume," Jarrett notes. "They are ready to network and seek career advice and meet alumni. Give them those opportunities early." This adds value for both students and alumni and reinforces for students that the institution will continue to add value after graduation.

"We have a wonderful base of alumni, this intellectual human resource lying in databases. We need to close the loop and engage them not just in career networking but in the leadership development of the next generation of students."
Raj Bellani, Rhode Island School of Design

Bellani suggests:

  • Invite alumni speakers to talk during the first pivotal six weeks of the freshman year
  • Get student representatives involved in the alumni association
  • Find creative ways to involve alumni in any rituals of transition or campus events
  • Invite alumni who were student leaders (whether in student government, Greek life, the residence halls, or student groups) to return to campus and speak with students in that affinity


Read this free February, 2008 whitepaper from Academic Impressions:

Students and Alumni -- Enhancing Each Others' Experiences