Supercharge Your Participation: 5 Steps to Link In Graduating Seniors

Alumni participation rates have dropped 50 percent over the last 20 years – and the decrease is even more drastic among young alumni. Moreover, even though young alumni typically don’t make large donations, early participation is understood to instill a spirit of philanthropy that will last a lifetime. How do you work to establish a habit of giving early on? Here’s 5 ways to engage graduating seniors into alumni donation participation.

1.     Senior Gift Fund

Many schools ask seniors to donate a nominal amount, such as $5 or $20.17, which can help to immediately instill a habit of donating. You can set a participation goal such as 80% of graduating seniors instead of a lofty dollar amount, which will incentivize student giving by making every person feel like their contribution is valuable. Things like visual progress charts shared over social media, videos of students sharing why they donated, and entries to win gift cards to local restaurants can be great ways to amp up participation. You can even encourage seniors to set up reoccurring annual donations of that nominal amount – annual reoccurring revenue will both encourage lifelong participation and reduce the logistical burden of soliciting donations.

2.     Reduced Alumni Membership Dues

If you have local alumni chapters that collect dues, consider offering reduced membership rates for young alumni. Cutting the cost makes membership more accessible to recent graduates. If you can get seniors to join as they are graduating, you can automatically bill them for annual membership and scale up to the normal rate over time. Given that these chapters tend to funnel donations upward to the university, getting alumni involved early on can help to encourage lifelong participation.

3.     Senior Event Donation Lotteries

As seniors are close to graduation, many universities plan get-togethers and events designed to help seniors enjoy their last few weeks on campus. This can be anything – senior champagne brunch in a dining hall, renting out a boat for a cruise with the senior class, dances, cookouts, tailgates, or other events. Consider having fundraising opportunities at these events, such as 50/50 raffles or a lottery for a swag bag. If you record ticket purchases as a form of “participation,” you can get seniors involved early and reference this prior involvement in future donation requests.

4.     Graduation Gift Pledge

One option that may to appeal to graduating seniors is an exclusive gift bag that can only be received with a more substantial donation – say, $75-100. This bag could include exclusive class hats, a sweatshirt, diploma frames, shirts for the family of the senior, or passes to 10 football games for the coming year, to name a few options. Again, this creative way to encourage early participation with a reasonable donation can establish a habit that you can encourage throughout each alum’s life.

5.     Senior Donor Night Out

One final idea for engaging seniors is a donor-exclusive senior night out. This can be combined with some of the ideas above. For example, when publicizing the Senior Gift initiative, you could make it clear that donors receive a free ticket to a Senior Wine & Cheese night or an exclusive takeover of a popular local bar and a drink ticket. By playing up the nostalgia of end of year gatherings and incentivizing participation via closed events, you can further encourage seniors to establish a lifelong habit of giving.


Alumni participation rates may be dwindling, but the situation isn’t hopeless. By engaging seniors to donate now, you can establish a lifelong habit of giving. If you want to chat about strategies for donor engagement, we’re here to help.

Rachael Stein