Last fiscal year, William & Mary reached its second-highest level of undergraduate alumni donors ever. This year, many members of the College community are eyeing, and hoping to beat, the all-time record. But the push isn’t just for bragging rights; the College has become increasingly dependent upon private giving to fund essential items in its budget.
“It’s critical that we boost annual giving by alumni,” said incoming Rector Jeffrey B. Trammell ’73. “The future of William & Mary is really in the hands of alumni.”
William & Mary’s one-year record for alumni donor participation is 13,451. The College is now only hundreds of participants away from beating the record this fiscal year, which ends on June 30. To achieve the goal, the College has tapped into social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, and word-of-mouth communications in addition to traditional means to encourage alumni to give.
On the College’s “Beat the Record” Facebook page, alumni can even take a William & Mary personality quiz, developed by the Fund for William & Mary Board’s Young Alumni Taskforce. Learn more.
“We’re specifically targeting recent grads because there’s research that indicates if we engage alumni within the first five years of graduation, we’re much more likely to keep them engaged in a lifelong relationship with the College,” said Molly Bodnar, the executive director of annual giving programs at William & Mary.
Nationwide, participation rates have been trending downward and classes from the most recent decade already have lower participation rates than older classes, according to Bodnar.
“So we’re trying to focus on younger alumni to try to increase their participation and, we hope, make a long-term impact for William & Mary,” she said.
Trammell said the focus on alumni participation would continue when he becomes rector on July 1.
“It will be my highest priority,” he said, adding that William & Mary has lower participation rates than other small to medium-sized liberal arts institutions like Davidson College, Williams College, Princeton University and Brown University.
“Their alumni give at a higher percentage,” Trammell said. “And I know our alumni will over time, once they understand that William & Mary is as important as any other good cause they support.”
Although William & Mary is a state institution, only about 12 percent of the College's operating budget comes from the state's general fund. The remainder comes from students and their families via tuition and fees, grants for research and other non-state sources such as private donations and endowment gifts. Uses for unrestricted annual gifts can vary from year to year, but in the past they have supported financial aid, faculty, student research and the Alumni Association.
“All of the things that make William & Mary special,” Trammell said, like small class sizes and full professors, are dependent upon private support.
Bodnar said it’s important for alumni to support the College, regardless of the size of the gift. Last year, donors giving less than $250 collectively brought in more than $1.6 million for William & Mary.
“Supporting the College says something about how our alumni value the education that they received and their commitment to their alma mater,” Bodnar said.