Byline: Khristopher J. Brooks
Universities spend thousands of dollars sending messages to alumni, hoping graduates will donate to their alma mater.
Some schools see greater returns than others. Still, securing alumni donations is a skill many large universities have down to a science. It's a task so important that one Washington expert called it critical.
"I would describe it as the foundation of any successful fundraising at a school, college or university," said John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, a nonprofit that studies advancement trends at colleges and universities.
During a 2010 interview, Lippincott said alumni giving is a critical part of an institution's development, adding that typically 25 to 30 percent of a school's donations come from alumni.
Local colleges, like the University of North Florida, Edward Waters College and the University of Florida, say they employ similar techniques to entice graduates to donate. Those techniques include mailings, social media and on-campus events specifically for alumni.
The efforts have paid dividends. Alumni giving at UNF, for example, has topped $339,000 for the past three years.
However, one local university confessed recently that keeping relationships with alumni hasn't been its strongest point.
Michael Howland, Jacksonville University's vice president for university advancement, said at his university, "we haven't done a good job at communicating with our alumni in the past."
"But we're starting to now," he added.
There are 23,500 living JU alumni in the country, Howland said, with 9,000 in Northeast Florida.
Last year 6.7 percent of the total JU alumni donated to their alma mater, Howland said, much lower than the average 13 percent one would find at other schools that JU uses as a benchmark.
While looking for a deeper understanding of their alumni, JU officials hired an outside firm this year to conduct a survey of its graduates.
The survey found that JU had twice as many disconnected or near-disconnected alumni as any other school the firm had conducted surveys for.
Howland gave two reasons JU has had troubles reaching out to graduates. First, between 1989 and 2003, there were cuts to the alumni relations staff.
Second, the university's alumni publication, The Wave, has only reached 3,000 alumni, meaning more than 20,000 Dolphins had no knowledge of what's happening at their alma mater.
"And now, we're looking at having to rebuild all those alumni connections," Howland said.
Lippincott, the nonprofit president, said there are three steps to gaining alumni donations.
First, he said, make sure the student had a positive experience in college.
Second, make sure the graduate stays connected to the university, whether it's through volunteering, attending events or working a leadership position at the school.
Finally, Lippincott said, a university should ask recent graduates to donate a small amount to get the alum in the habit of giving.
Faith Hall, UNF's director of alumni services, said the public university does a good job at keeping in contact with Ospreys.
UNF uses mailings, email and interacting on Facebook and Twitter. …