The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

University Seeks Alumni Generosity

3 min read


The University of Mary Washington is ramping up its efforts to attract and maintain donations.

They have been working to set up alumni chapters across the country, travelling to the Galapagos Islands with its Alumni College, and establishing a new position called the Director of National Alumni Engagement.

The new position focuses on making sure geographically separated alumni still feel connected to UMW by staying in contact with them and by setting up alumni chapters. The theory is that by making alumni feel more connected to campus, they will be more inclined to make donations.

According to Torre Meringolo, vice president for advancement and university relations, Cindy Snyder, the current director of alumni relations, will be transferring into that position.

State funding for universities has dropped by 40 percent since 2000, according to the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, so alumni donations have become paramount in ensuring the quality of education that universities are able to provide.

A 2009 study by the University of Virginia called “UVA Young Alumni Engagement Survey,” found that for each event attended by alumni, their likelihood of donation increases by 10 percent. And for each subsequent event attended after that, their likelihood increases by an additional 10 percent.

The study also found that nostalgia was cited more than social or career development as the prime reason for donating.

Ken Steen, associate vice president for development, said that donations are especially important to attract quality student and professors through scholarships and professorships.

In the past 20 years, the top reasons for donations are a belief in the leadership of the university and passion, he added.

Universities work to secure donations through different means.  For example, President Rick Hurley recently attended 14 alumni engagements on the east coast in 12 days, travelling between Florida, Massachusetts, New York and the Carolinas.

Meringolo said, “We have to be where the alumni live.”

UVA even provides discount airline fares for alumni coming to events in Charlottesville. Also, many universities now use social networking to stay connected with their alumni no matter where they live.

The new Director of National Alumni Engagement position expands upon UMW’s continued effort to track alumni interests. UMW’s alumni database, which contains about 38,000 alumni, keeps track of where they live, non-profit organizations they support and trends in how much they donate and when. Snyder will be responsible for setting up events based on information in this database.

UMW’s Alumni College, which was created in 2008 to provide alumni and members of the community the ability to interact with faculty for classes without quizzes, have developed a new program called “Alumni College on the Road.” This program is designed to engage alumni nationally by having them travel to the Galapagos Islands with Andrew Dolby, associate professor of biology, and Nina Thompson, director of the Alumni College.

The Alumni College’s page on UMW’s website states that “this is a terrific opportunity to explore cultures and life beyond our own backyards, while sharing the experience with a small group of UMW alumni and friends.”

According to Franklin Grant, interim vice president for advancement and university relations at Longwood University, and Kathryn Jarvis, assistant vice president and chief of staff from UVA, the majority of donations come from alumni. Grant estimates that Longwood University receives an average of $5 million per year from alumni donations; Meringolo gave an estimate of $6-7 million per year for UMW.

Jason Life, the managing director of alumni engagement of UVA, said, “We, as Alumni Affairs, try to build as large a pipeline to alumni as possible; we know that as people get involved, they will want to continue their involvement and hopefully become donors.” Life said that UVA raised “$203.8 million in cash flow, [such as] gifts, pledge payments, grants and irrevocable deferred gifts” for fiscal year 2010.

Grant believes that graduates who leave Longwood feel as though their lives have been improved are more likely to donate and be involved in the future of Longwood, supporting a statement by Life that, “if students don’t have a good time as an undergrad, it’s hard to do alumni affairs.”

To improve alumni donations for Longwood, Grant said that he needs more, “road warriors” travelling the country and engaging alumni.

Mary Washington makes an effort to keep in touch with its 34,000 alumni, but Steen acknowledged that they must be realistic in their expectations. Still, some people give every year for decades, he said.

Rachel Enright, Lisa Feeley, Thomas Ella, Andrea Forcum and Simone Fox contributed to this report.