Top Tips to Solicit Non-Alumni Donors

Donations to higher education institutions have been increasing year on year for some time now. According to the Council for Aid to Education, donations in 2015 showed a huge increase and although 2016 was challenging, donations still continued to show an upward trend. In fact, last year’s CAE study showed that colleges and universities raised $41 billion!

Interestingly however, only 24.2% of those donations were from alumni – which begs the question, where are so many of these generous donations coming from? [1]

Individual non-alumni donors make up 18.3% of donations with foundations, companies, and other organizations making up the other 57.5%. [1] A great deal of resources and effort have traditionally been put into tracking and engaging alumni, but non-alumni donors are clearly a significant group who should not be ignored.

After looking at several philanthropists and foundations that have given major donations over the last few years, we’ve come up with a few suggestions based on their actions and advice:

Create Campaigns that Empower

Billionaire philanthropist Charles Koch – who gives to an array of causes including higher education – says his aim is to find organizations that ‘want to make life better by empowering free will and enterprise’. [2] Many philanthropists are looking for charitable opportunities with inspiring qualities rather than donating to any single cause.

Using characteristics unique to your school, design campaigns that will catch the attention of individuals who aren’t from your alumni pool.

Offer causes that could make a larger impact on the lives of individuals and you may pique the interest of a potential non-alumni donor.

Find Affinity

Another option is to actively search by causes – and find individuals who have an interest them!

Non-alumni affinity doesn’t necessarily have to be about your school – in fact it’s more likely to be about the specific causes, initiatives, or programs that you are soliciting gifts for.

Bill Franke and his family recently gave the University of Montana its largest gift yet – $24 million toward conserving Montana’s natural resources and expanding the global perspective of the students. [3] The family has a home in the area and therefore feels passionate about helping future generations in the community – especially when it concerns maintaining the natural beauty and resources of the state.

Show A Clear Plan

There has been a lot of talk about Chinese philanthropists offering generous donations to higher education institutions worldwide. The concept of charitable giving in China is relatively new and, unfortunately, something that has been plagued with fraud and uncertainty.

However, according to Wang Bing, one of China’s most influential philanthropists, it also has a lot of potential for giving. Mr. Wang shares that, ‘There is a lot of money available that hasn’t been donated’ but …’They’re not going to give their money to just anyone. They want to donate to charities that are effective at what they do.’[4] When you’re putting together your campaign, include details to show your potential donors that you have clear goals and a plan that can lead to successful results. The more recognition you get for successful campaigns, the more credibility you have with future donors.

Auckland University’s ‘For All Our Futures’ campaign is a great example. Their goal is global recognition and they hope to achieve this by emulating research models used by some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S.

The very ambitious $300 million campaign has laid out a very detailed plan and has already raised a considerable amount well ahead of their 2020 deadline. [5] It has even caught the attention of global philanthropists such as Li Ka Shing – a Chinese billionaire – who recently donated the first in a series of $5 million to the campaign. [6]

Broaden Your Focus

With over half of all donations made coming from non-alumni donors, it is time to focus strategies on engaging this powerful donor pool. While finding a wealthy philanthropist to donate a substantial gift is ideal, remember that your non-alumni donors could also include parents, family, and friends of your alumni. Solicit alumni family and friends just as you would any otherpotential non-alumni donors by presenting them with well-designed campaigns that back meaningful causes.


Sources & Further Reading

[1] Colleges and Universities Raise $41 Billion in 2016,

[2] What inspires people, corporations to give to higher education?,

[3] UM on Track to Receive Largest Single Gift in its History,

[4] Is philanthropy catching on among China’s super rich?, BBC

[5] Wanted: $300 million to tackle the big issues facing New Zealand, New Zealand Herald

[6] Hong Kong rich-lister gives $5m to Auckland University, New Zealand Herald

[7] Campus Cash,

[8] For Fundraising, Kennedy School Turns to Non-Alumni,

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