Introducing First-Year Students to Philanthropy

Posted on 02/01/2022

There are no second chances when it comes to making a great first impression. Yet at most institutions, the first impression future alumni have of the development office is a request to complete a senior class gift pledge card. Students don’t typically understand why they’re being asked to support their alma maters, especially when the expenses of the real world are about to come knocking.

As enrollment continues to climb at colleges and universities, making a strong case for support with the next generation of alumni is critical to growing overall participation rates. Establishing a culture of philanthropy builds the pipeline for future investment, and there’s no better time to educate students about the impact of alumni support than before they graduate.

So where do you start? The best time to begin engaging students is when they are just setting foot onto your campus. To kick off a strong student philanthropy program with your incoming students, consider integrating the following tactics into your development program:

  1. Recognize where students are getting their information. New students are looking for ways to get involved and learn more about their school’s culture, which is why having an active development presence at the activities fair or at student affairs events is critical to making a positive introduction. Placing ads that highlight the role of philanthropy in the school newspaper or in a first-year “look book” are other ways to raise philanthropic awareness. Students often turn to their peers for information, which is why building a volunteer group that promotes advancement activities can help create awareness.
  2. Consider how you brand your efforts so that your message resonates. Several years ago, Rice University rebranded its student philanthropy week with the name “Rice Owls Give Back” to create campus pride around the school’s culture of philanthropy. The advancement team also distributed T-shirts that students could wear on a certain day during the week to receive free coffee on campus. The campaign generated excitement among the students and also provided walking publicity for the advancement team’s efforts.
  3. Continue to raise awareness by hosting your own events. Having a development presence at other events is a great idea, but it doesn’t compare to the benefits of designing your own gatherings where philanthropic messaging is at the forefront. These events require institutional investment, but they also build connections among students and develop students’ affinity for their class—which will help with future reunion fundraising efforts.
  4. Leverage technology with your student population in mind. Having a strong Facebook presence may make sense for older alumni, but teens and young adults more frequently use other social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Consider engagement opportunities that meet students where they are, such as doing a Snapchat scavenger hunt with images of places on campus that have benefited from philanthropy. Involving students in social media “takeover” days on Instagram can give alumni a glimpse of current campus life while helping students understand how their personal stories encourage alumni to stay connected and give back.

It’s never too early for students to learn the importance of giving back. That’s why they should hear from you long before they’re getting ready to graduate. Reaching out to students in their first year on campus is an easy way to introduce them to your advancement efforts, and it serves as a critical initial step toward developing lifelong supporters.

AGN Members receive unlimited access to our resources, discounts, and other benefits. Click here to learn more.

Want to stay up-to-date on best practices in annual giving? Click here to follow AGN's Page on Linkedin!