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Donor Participation Project

Focusing Beyond the Metric: Experts Discuss the Future of Alumni Participation

For years, higher education institutions have focused on alumni participation rates as a key metric of fundraising success and a factor in college rankings. However, with the recent news that U.S. News and World Report has dropped alumni giving rates from its ranking methodology, institutions now have an opportunity to rethink how they approach and measure alumni engagement.

According to Dr. Shalonda Martin, who participated in a recent discussion on alumni engagement, “Metrics should serve a purpose beyond just existing for the sake of existing.”

Rather than chasing participation rates, schools can now focus on using data to benefit their institutions in more strategic ways. For example, understanding donor motivations—like their desire to create impact—and aligning messaging to resonate with these motivations.

Fundraising expert Perry Readford believes the shift away from rankings also allows schools to approach fundraising with an “inclusive” mindset.

“A lot of schools have pressure to get everyone to the table to give at whatever amount is meaningful to them,” Radford said. Creating a culture of philanthropy where all gifts matter is more meaningful than chasing arbitrary rate targets.

To measure success beyond rates, schools may look to tools like CASE’s Alumni Engagement Metrics which consider factors like alumni satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. Digital engagement can also provide insight into how to better connect with younger alumni. Rethinking the traditional phone-a-thon model to focus on broader engagement and volunteering may open more opportunities for alumni to contribute in ways most meaningful to them.

The experts agreed alumni participation still matters for demonstrating community support. But rather than “gaming the system,” schools can now authentically build that support through equitable engagement practices, strategic communications about impact, and partnerships across campus.

For advancement teams, this shift means an opportunity to realize greater contributions and community impact. Overall, alumni engagement and fundraising stand to benefit when the focus moves beyond metrics for their own sake.

Success comes from relationships, not just rankings.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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