Last week, an article in The University News about Alumni Family Weekend raised the question: “How can the University of Dallas strengthen its crucial base of alumni support?” While the article did not propose any solution, it did raise the ever present concern about a “lack of alumni giving.”
Yet this problem seems to be subsiding. According to Executive Director of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving Erin Dougherty, in the 2016 fiscal year, the alumni giving rate was 13.2 percent. In the 2017 fiscal year, this climbed dramatically to 21 percent. This is the highest alumni giving rate that UD has seen since 2012. Last year alone, UD gained 756 new donors, 567 of whom were alumni.
How does this statistic compare to other colleges? Within the area of the “Regional West,” which the University of Dallas falls in, the average alumni giving rate stands at 6.7 percent. For public universities, the rate is 8 percent. Universities that are ranked amongst the top 100 of liberal arts colleges in the country enjoy a higher average alumni participation rate of 29.1 percent. For most liberal arts colleges, that rate stands around 18 percent, according to Dougherty.
UD’s alumni giving rate could improve of course, but the suggestion in last week’s paper that UD suffers from unusually low alumni giving rates is an unfounded claim and an insult to our alumni and the office that serves them.
Along with the rise in the alumni participation, the retention rate of alumni donors has been rising dramatically since 2015. Between fiscal year 2015 and 2017, the donor retention rate for alumni has climbed from 43.9 percent to 60.29 percent.
Dougherty cited several reasons for the increase in both these statistics, among them the discussion about the proposed New College and increased clarity about the usage of donations. The UD website now allows donors to specifically choose where they would like their donation to go. Potential donors can select among eight options, which include items such as the UD endowment and Constantin College, or donors may choose to write in where they would like their donation to be directed. Dougherty said that they are in the process of creating a system that would allow donors to direct their donation to specific departments.
Last week’s article also voiced a concern about a failure on the part of alumni relations to communicate to alumni. Dougherty acknowledged that there are valid reasons for this sentiment amongst alumni.
Dougherty explained that the size of UD allows for students to have a “personal and special experience” and as alumni, “they rightfully expect for this experience to continue.”
However, she said that frequent technological updates, addresses changing and a poorly structured database can be obstacles to fulfilling this expectation.
Dougherty said that the Office of Advancement is planning to move to a new database designed specifically for the Advancement Office that will better allow them to track alumni and their engagement with UD. This database would hold information about alumni from the time they were students to their involvement after graduation such as, their participation in reunions or volunteer history with UD, which would allow Alumni Relations to offer the more personalized relationship alumni expect.
Given these recent improvements, how can, as last week’s article asked, our alumni continue to be encouraged to support their alma mater? One solution might be for the senior administration to consider that while there are obviously many services that may be beneficial to UD, a well-funded alumni relations office that is able to purchase items like the new database or hire additional staff is essential to both UD’s community life and financial health, making it deserve financial priority over other offices.
Other administrative offices like the proposal for a campus police force or the newly created position of Director of Human Resources may be beneficial to UD but neither seems to be essential to its mission. It may be worth reconsidering where these administrative funds are directed and ensuring that they are given to offices that are most essential for upholding the university’s mission. When I asked Dougherty about the office’s funding, she responded,“We would know what to do with additional staff if we were given them.”