Alumni donations down, require clarity

Oct. 12-15 is UD's annual Alumni and Family Weekend.

The University of Dallas has a fantastic record of the brightest students going on to become successful, happy alumni in post-graduate life. But in comparison to other schools like the University of Notre Dame or Thomas Aquinas College, UD lacks the powerhouse endowment those schools enjoy. Maybe at at UD, we’re more humble than the competition, so we have no need to show how much money we have to the world.

In seriousness, though, there are several reasons that alumni either cannot or will not donate to UD  consistently. Between the Cor challenge, and the letters that alumni do receive every so often, President Keefe has done a great job of encouraging alumni to give back. He began his tenure at UD with a huge problem with alumni relations.

Over the past 30 years, the past administrations at UD have made alumni feel ignored by their alma mater. Given this extremely difficult and long-standing problem, Keefe has made huge progress. But while he can lead the horse to the water, he can’t  make it drink. After interviewing several alumni, I was able to get multiple perspectives on ways to encourage more donations from UD alumni.

First, we have to show the alumni where their money is going. This was the beauty of the Cor challenge, as it was raising money for the Rome program. Donation drives that are specific to beautifying the campus, funding for athletics or scholarship programs are all surefire ways of communicating clearly to the alumni what their money is doing. With financial transparency, alumni will see their donations as a sort of investment. Any investor will say they like it when they can see their investment grow. It will also help restore trust with the university in the minds of the alumni, as transparency with the money can only make matters better.

Second, know your audience. This is a little bit tricky, as UD’s alumni “audience” spans back decades. However it would bode well to know which alumni are farther along in their careers, and to cater the pitch to that audience. For example, alumni who graduated in the 80’s and 90’s are more likely to identify with the Catholic identity of the school, and the emphasis on using the Core to form the basis of the UD education. This leads into my last point regarding the school identity.

Lastly, the best way to encourage donations is to place the bulk of correspondence with alumni on an emphasis of our strong Catholic identity. I am aware that not everyone at the school is Catholic, but there is still a majority, particularly among former students, that UD ought to tap into. It was as true then as it is now. It is a big market that can be tapped if the emphasis is a little stronger.

The biggest problem currently facing UD is in repairing broken trust with the alumni, which spans back three decades.

UD has a donation rate of 18% among alumni. The average Catholic university like Benedictine is 20%. Considering the problems UD has had with donations, 18% is a good number. However, if you look at our California-based competitor, Thomas Aquinas College, they are sitting at a whopping 59% donation rate. That is higher than Princeton University’s alumni donation rate, and they are the envy of the Ivy League when it comes to alumni relations.

It is a tough and long road ahead if we want our numbers to increase, but President Keefe is doing something right by interacting constantly with alumni, students, and visitors alike. Applying his hands-on approach to alumni relations could propel the school to above average numbers, and fix one of UD’s most longstanding and difficult problems.


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