Establishing a Culture of Philanthropy Among Young Alumni

young alumni
by Chatise Smith

Young alumni aren’t typically considered as strong charitable givers in comparison to older alumni with a greater capacity to give. But contrary to popular belief, young alumni are becoming some of higher education’s most valuable donors. Today’s social and political climate has sparked a trend of volunteerism and philanthropy among young adults. As more graduates seek to reconnect with their alma mater, it is critical that we capitalize by planning proactive and deliberate outreach efforts 

“Young alumni” is defined differently across institutions. At UGA, we define young alumni as 40 and younger. G.O.L.D. alumni are those who graduated in the last decade. Generational cohorts, loosely defined by birth year, can be helpful in studying young alumni. Our young alumni population largely consists of Millennials (born 19811996), and some Gen Zs (born 19972019) (Villa & Dorsey, 2016).  

Millennials are changing the shape of philanthropy. Unlike the generation before them, millennials donate to improve the world rather than donate out of a sense of responsibility (Gluch, 2016). They donate financially, but also give their time, talent, and access to networks, too. With 1.56 million nonprofits in the United States striving for young alumni dollars, how does UGA win them over? 

Young alumni are a tough crowd, but with the right strategy, we can groom them into our most powerful donors. The future of higher education giving rests with young alumni. By targeting this insufficiently tapped age group, we can ensure the long-term health of annual giving by moving donors into the pipeline early. Below are some tips for connecting with them. Click on each takeaway to learn more: 


  1. Ask for more than money. Remember, time and talent are donations, too. (Varied Engagement) 
  2. Use stories in your campaigns to which young alumni relate. Share statistics to inform young alumni about how their donations will impact UGA. (Discussing Impact) 
  3. Center campaigns around specific causes. (Cause Based Giving) 
  4. Do your research. Identify interests and causes that resonate with young alumni.  
  5. Involve your leadership groups in your campaigns. (Peer influence). 
  6. Bank on true millennials (Class of 2002 – Class of 2018). They are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce.

Schools, colleges, and units should leverage varied types of engagement when targeting young alumniEngagement, in this context, can be defined as the way that young alumni interact with the university and utilize the opportunities and resources available to them. Millennials and Gen Zs believe that they have more to give to a cause than just money. Young alumni are diverse and include young professionals, graduate students, families, and more. This means that they have mixed interests. While engaging financially is ideal for us as fundraisers, we must consider varied tactics to strategically funnel young alumni into the donor pipeline. 

Remind constituents that private support is more than dollar signs—volunteering and sharing access to a network are helpful, too. Young alumni consider convenience when deciding to give. Plan a mix of events that include social gatherings, learning opportunities, career and networking programscommunity service projects, and other non-financial engagement opportunities. It is extremely important to shape young alumni engagement strategy and its delivery around ways that young alumni prefer to be involved with the University of Georgia. 

The Alumni Association offers a variety of volunteer and engagement opportunities for young alumni. Contact the Alumni Relations team to learn about young alumni opportunities to get involved with alumni chapters and affinity groups. 

Young alumni are more likely to donate if they know exactly what they are giving to and how their contribution will be used. Fundraisers should include statistics and impact stories into young alumni solicitation campaigns to increase the likelihood of moving them into the donor pipeline. 

“Your GenX and GenY alumni: they really do want to give, but only on their terms. They want unrestricted giving that targets a personal interest. And they don’t merely want to send money, they want to know they are making a difference. This will keep institutions on their toes in terms of messaging, stewardship and recognition.” (Barnes, 2012) 

Annual Giving and DARCOMM have partnered on campaigns targeting young alumni that a) shared stories about young alumni donors (like Daniel SchoonBynikini Frazier, or Elizabeth Coxdonating to a cause important to them and b) drove young alumni to a “causes” page which illustrates how to connect a personal interest with specific funds on campus. These efforts celebrated young alumni commitments and their pursuit to make a difference at UGA. 

Georgia Funder (ie: crowdfunding) is another avenue through which young alumni can understand the specific destination of their gift and how their support, combined with hundreds of other donors, is truly making a difference. For example, the Georgia Funder honoring Miss Sandra’s retirement was emailed to young alumni and within 24 hours, had garnered more than 150 donors to the Let All the Big Dawgs Eat Meal Plan Scholarship. Can’t get more specific than that! 

When asked, 75% of millennials preferred to donate to cause-based nonprofits, rather than institutions (Gluch, 2016). Young alumni often equate institutions with well-established corporations, which they assume do not need private funds. To combat this, fundraisers should avoid asking for financial support for an unspecified cause with unspecified impact. Instead, base solicitations on a cause. Experts suggest surveying young alumni to develop caused-based giving strategies. Ask them, “what are the causes most important to you and how can we bring them to light?” 

UGA Annual Giving conducted a survey in FY19 and found that young alumni are more inclined to give if they are solicited based on a cause in which they are interested. So, we worked with DARCOMM to create a cause-based giving page on give.uga.eduYoung alumni can search for funds based on a cause in which they’re interested. Contact your annual giving school/college liaison to learn how your school/college/unit is represented on the causes landing page.  

Sometimes, donors are simply more inclined to support programs that are not directly related to institutions. So, fundraisers can work with community partners to create a link to local nonprofits that focus on causes that correlate to a school/college/unit’s campaign. UGA works with many local and national partners, including Coca-Cola, Athens-Clarke County Office of Sustainability, AmeriCorps VISTA, and more. To learn more about engaging with community partners, visit UGA’s Public Service & Outreach (PSO) website. 

Did you know that 70% of millennials decide whether to make purchases based on their friends’ offline opinions? Additionally, 25% of employed millennials state that they would donate if their supervisor did so, and almost half say they would donate if a peer or coworker asked them to (Gulch, 2016). With that in mind, empower UGA students and young alumni to share the university’s philanthropic goals by providing content and style guides for promotion of said goals. 

This is why DARCOMM launched the Digital Dawgs social ambassador program and why it provides links to promo toolkits, complete with social media content, to alumni volunteers for certain events. This ensures those leaders are aware and equipped to share every relevant campaign. 

Student leaders become alumni leaders. So, fundraisers can build a pipeline of future donors by retaining student leaders beyond graduationWork with school/college/unit ambassador and other student leadership groups to transition engaged students into informed and engaged young alumni donors. The Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Leadership Council is full of motivated, involved graduates eager to make a difference. The same goes for Grady, Terry and many other schools and colleges. 

*Pictured above (L-R): Jasmin Severino Hernandez (AB ’13, AB ’13), Liz Cox (BBA ’13, BBA ’13), Adam Johnson (MBA ’16), featured speaker Chuck Bryant (AB ’95), Daniella Singleton (AB ’08, BS ’08), Shayla Hill (BBA ’08) at Young Alumni “Between Two Hedges” event in February 2020.