“But don’t all US alumni give back to their university?”

by Stephen Tall on April 19, 2013

The publication this week of the latest UK university fundraising figures gives me a timely excuse to dust down this #QTWTAIN.

There’s a common assumption that pretty much all alumni at US universities (and certainly the elite Ivy League) give back to their almae matres. British university fundraisers get used to being brow-beaten with statements along the lines, “Of course at Harvard nearly all their alumni make a donation.” It’s a good line. But it’s not true.

Here are 3 facts:

  1. In 2010, the proportion of alumni from Harvard making a donation was under 20% (19.4% to be precise);
  2. The proportion of alumni donating to Harvard fell every year between 2001 (from 27.2%) and 2010;
  3. Amongst Ivy League institutions the average alumni participation figure was 27.5%; among all higher education institutions it was 11.4%.

To be clear: I’m not knocking an 11% rate of alumni giving back. It’s a lot better than we in the UK do, as Frances Cairncross noted in the Independent this week:

In 2011-12, the mean proportion of their traceable alumni who made a gift was just over 1 per cent. At only seven UK universities did more than four per cent of alumni make a gift.

But let’s be accurate: not all alumni even at the top American universities choose to make a donation once they leave. In fact, barely more than 1-in-10 choose to do so.

If you want to see a table of the top 20 US higher education institutions (as ranked by their 2010 fundraisng income), other Ivy League institutions, and averages for comparison, click on the table below…

us alumni participation 2000-10

(My thanks to my old research colleagues at Oxford University for these figures.)