Dwindling Support Forces Campus to Court Young Alums

    Alumni donations to universities nationwide continued to
    decline last year, raising concerns about the diminishing role of contributions
    and prompting UCSD to utilize new programs to increase voluntary funding.

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    According to a Feb. 20 report released by the Council for
    Aid to Education, overall donations to American colleges increased by 6.3 percent
    while alumni support also declined by 1.5 percent.

    Experts suggest that the decrease in donations from alumni
    can be partially attributed to changes in demographics.

    “One of the big factors is the number of alumni that
    universities list as alumni,” Council for Advancement and Support of Education
    President John Lippincott said. “If you have more alumni on record but the same
    number giving, the participation rate actually goes down.”

    More students are graduating from college each year, and
    universities are concurrently doing a better job of capturing graduates in
    their databases, which could explain last year’s decline in the participation
    rate. While the number of donating alumni increased by 2 percent, the number of
    alumni recorded in databases increased by 4 percent.

    Additionally, since colleges have experienced a significant
    increase in enrollment over the last 10 years, the overall alumni base is
    younger than it has been in the past.

    “Our UCSD alumni are extremely young and not financially
    capable of giving large, significant gifts,” UCSD Director of Development
    Communications Judy Piercey said in an e-mail. “That demographic is not
    projected to change for the next 10 years.”

    UCSD Executive Director of Individual Giving Harrie M.
    Hughes said that the challenge is to engage younger alumni philanthropically so
    that they donate at whatever amount they can afford, but just as importantly,
    continue to do so year after year.

    Last summer, UCSD’s seven-year fundraising campaign, titled
    “The Campaign for UCSD: Imagine What’s Next,” achieved its goal of bringing in
    more than $1 billion.

    With the campaign concluded, UCSD is focusing on creating a
    culture of philanthropy among both current students and its young alumni base.

    “UC San Diego has launched a new website that has a robust
    online giving aspect,” Hughes said. “[We] are seeing quite a significant spike
    in gifts being made online.”

    Since September 2005, over 5,745 donors have contributed
    nearly $1.8 million through the online giving site, www.givetoucsd.ucsd.edu.

    “Online giving has been growing substantially but still
    represents a very small percentage,” Lippincott said. “I suspect over time it
    will become a very substantial portion of giving, particularly as the younger
    generation, who are used to giving transactions online, decide that’s the way
    they want to do their charitable giving.”

    Lippincott added that universities are also using online
    communities as a means to engage young alumni early on and keep them involved
    so that when asked, they are more inclined to donate.

    In addition, this is the second straight year that UCSD has
    solicited seniors using Facebook.

    “We’re using Facebook to go through to students and young
    alumni,” Interim Executive Director of Alumni Relations Armin Afsahi said.
    “We’re using it as a mechanism to educate, inspire, and direct them to our
    giving sites.”

    Results of the CAE report do not indicate links between
    shrinking donation levels and the recent economic downturn, since the survey
    results were based on donations given up until June 2007, said Lippincott.

    However, he noted that in weak economic times, donations
    level off but typically do not decline substantially.

    As state funding declines, universities are depending more
    than ever on their own fundraising efforts. At UCSD, only 12 percent of the
    current budget comes from state revenue. Donations therefore represent a
    significant source of income that helps fund student scholarships and
    fellowships, faculty research, academic programs and new campus buildings.

    Programs such as the Student Foundation’s “I-Pledge” for
    current students, the Chancellor’s Associates Young Alumni donor group, and
    UCSD Near You alumni events all build on the messages that showcase campus
    alumni contributions.

    “We would like to inspire individuals to really think about
    giving back — that giving is both to UCSD, but also through UCSD, to the areas
    they are most passionate about,” Afsahi said.

    Alumni giving across the UC system increased 120.2 percent
    over the past 10 years but decreased 1.8 percent in the past two years,
    according to Piercey.

    The national percentage of alumni making donations also
    declined from 11.9 to 11.7 percent.

    CAE’s report is based on the annual Voluntary Survey of
    Education, which collects information from a third of the nation’s four-year
    institutions about the contributions they receive from alumni, foundations,
    corporations and other sources.

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