Nudging UT’s Alumni Giving Rates Upward

Contributions, big or small, from alumni to their respective alma maters matter more to current students and faculty than most realize. As UT looks to raise its national rankings, a key part of that effort comes down to fundraising efforts from the Campaign for Texas.

In the latest U.S. News and World Report, UT was ranked 45th in the nation for overall academic quality. Alumni giving rates stood at 15 percent, an all-time high for the University, but falling short of many competitors. The report was based on a number of metrics, peer assessment, faculty resources, graduation and retention rate, and alumni giving.

Against UT’s peer universities, UC Berkeley and Michigan, UT’s giving numbers are comparable. But by comparison to the majority of competing public research universities listed, there is room for improvement in alumni giving, says David Onion, senior associate VP for UT’s Office of Development.

And that’s improvement UT is starting to make.

The Office of Development’s Campaign for Texas began in 2006 as an eight-year, $3 billion fundraising effort to increase UT’s national competitiveness and strengthen the connection between the University and its alumni.

Since its start, 29 percent of alumni have participated in the capital campaign. Of that 29 percent, 35 percent of members are first-time donors. Overall, 222,000 donors have participated in the campaign, with 95,000 of those being non-alumni.

“This is a very exciting development because not only do we try to maintain and enhance the relationships that we have,” Onion says. “We are always looking to acquire new relationships.”

One of the primary determining factors for alumni participation is the size of the alumni body. Larger institutions have a hard time increasing alumni participation due to the size of their alumni pool. For UT, 8,000 alumni are added to the pool each year, so 8,000 donors need to be added to the rolls in order to break even.

Student experiences on campus predict alumni engagement with a university after graduation. The bigger the university and the bigger the number of alumni, the lower the participation rate. For this reason, private universities tend to have much higher participation rates than do larger public schools like UT.

“We look to our peer instutions North Carolina, Berkeley,  and Michigan and compare ourselves to similar schools,” Onion says. “Comparing ourselves to smaller institutions that have 3,000-4,000 alumni each year gives those schools a huge advantage.”

Over the last 24 months, Students Hooked on Texas created a student giving program to establish a tradition of getting students to give before they graduate. In the course of two years the number of students giving to the campaign has increased from 200 to 1,100, an overall 400 percent increase.

“The news is very good, but at the same point we still have a very long way to go,” Onion says. “It is our goal to get more and more alums involved with the University, and the student association is playing a critical role in that.”

All told, the Campaign of Texas has so far raised $1.9 billion toward its $3 billion goal, with 2011 being the best fundraising year to date.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr user Brandon Watts


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