Sitting across from an administrator at an internationally acclaimed university in Boston, I listened to him bemoan the fact that their fundraising efforts didn’t quite match their expectations. “After all,” he said, “We do so much for our alumni!”
I responded with, “Yes, but what do you do with your students while they are in school?” He gave me a blank stare, so I’ll never know if my point actually registered with him.
As it turns out, there are many things colleges and universities can do for students while they are in school that will impact their alumni giving. I’ll never forget how getting published while I was in journalism school helped me land my first job after I graduated. Nor will I ever forget the contagious enthusiasm of my journalism professor in that course. Contrast that with getting my MBA — I graduated with no experience in the midst of the steep recession of 1990. I didn’t have the time or finances to attend Northeastern University’s cooperative education program to gain real world experience, so I couldn’t compete against the many finance professionals who were laid off at the time, who could hit the ground running.
Two higher education administrators share their school’s perspectives on students and alumni fundraising:
- Mary Kane, Assistant Dean of Employer and External Engagement and a Senior Coop Faculty, D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University
- Steve Hall, VP, Alumni Relations, Boston University
Case Study One: Northeastern University
Mary Kane, Assistant Dean of Employer and External Engagement and a Senior Coop Faculty at D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, shares her thoughts on:
- Courses and Cooperative Education
- Student Clubs
- Entrepreneurship and Career Education
I applied to Northeastern University’s MBA program because of the variety of courses I saw in their catalog. I also liked the idea of their cooperative education program which gave students real work experience, although I knew I wouldn’t be able to attend based on my circumstances. Things have changed since I went to school there.
“Pretty much from the freshman year on, the business school has a number of opportunities for students to engage with both employers and alumni,” Mary Kane says. “Through that, I believe that they’re able to develop connections and get value in the fact that Northeastern helped them develop those connections. Coop is one form of experiential learning that’s offered at Northeastern; there are many avenues for students to engage in. Students can do shorter full-time internships outside school, if they are deemed to be in line with the overall program federal guidelines.”
Kane adds that students can also develop their own opportunities, work in entrepreneurial situations, and there are a number of more project-oriented courses that students can participate in. Internships can be three or four months (in school or outside school), depending on the program the student is in. “Certainly, students can do internships over the summer and although they’re not coop, they are [qualified]if they meet the educational outcome of the particular program that they’re in.”
I did belong to the Finance and Investment Club while I was a student at Northeastern, which I thoroughly enjoyed because of the additional finance and investment knowledge I was able to glean from it. Kane mentioned a new program they now offer.
“We recently had new Women in Finance initiative, where we’ve done a lot of partnering with our alumni to help them support and mentor women. There are a few organizations in the business school that bring speakers in, and there is programming for both students and alumni.”
Northeastern University offers so much support to their students and alumni (great courses, entrepreneurship advice, and career education), that as an alumni, I would definitely support their fundraising campaigns. Kane also sees this.
“I would think that students would want to give back based on their overall experience that they’d had here at the business school, on their experience in the classroom, in their connections they make through cooperative education — and more importantly the preparation, support, and resources that are available for them to be successful — not just as coop students, but after graduation,” she says. “I think there’s a huge emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation through the IDEA organization, which is a student-run venture accelerator here on campus which just celebrated its tenth year.”
Entrepreneurship and innovation is interdisciplinary and woven across the whole campus, which Kane believes is something that is distinctive to Northeastern. “I think it’s all of these different experiences that students have, which help encourage alumni giving. To be more specific, for example, we have a career education series, where we bring in speakers (both alumni and employer partners) that will speak to very specific careers in industry and how to get connected there.”
Case Study Two: Boston University
Steve Hall, VP Alumni Relations at Boston University, discusses:
- Real World Experience
- Scholarships and Financial Aid
- Building a Culture of Philanthropy
- Mentoring Programs and Internships
I took three graduate journalism courses from Boston University, when I was offered a freelance writer position for a financial publication, with a requirement to complete three graduate-level journalism courses first. I noticed during those courses that there was an emphasis on getting real world experience, whether it was listening to Katie Couric giving a speech at Tufts on journalism, or my final article assignment for a local newspaper.
I also appreciated that Boston University made my education affordable through their Evergreen Program for older students. At the time, I wasn’t aware that BU funded this. Steve Hall says that this is a way that students can bring down the price of education, with scholarship support and financial aid.
“That is a significant way that alumni can have an impact on current students,” Hall says. “It gives rise to the philosophy of students giving back when they’re able to. I think most students aren’t aware of all the sources of revenue paying for their education. We do count on alumni to support the educational and research mission of the institution through philanthropy.”
Hall thinks that an organization can maximize their support by being able to demonstrate two things: the impact of philanthropic support to alumni, and they way in which it can meet some needs in their own lives, to add value for them.
“I do think that alumni engagement is all about the value proposition,” he said. “People have an awful lot that they can do with their time and their treasure, and if we’re going to compete in that marketplace, we’ve got to be able to demonstrate to the alumni that they’re going to get some value out of it. That value may be they feel good about doing the right thing, it could be that they have access to our best and brightest students for hiring as an employer, it could mean that they have an opportunity to learn something that they might not otherwise have an opportunity to learn, or to network with people they haven’t had an opportunity to network with. We want to build a culture of philanthropy.”
As a student, I was also given basic access to the journalism school’s career services office for career advice. Hall says that if an institution is doing what it should, it will make those resources apparent to students while they’re enrolled. He added that this aspect is part of the importance of mentoring programs and internships.
“You hope students see the benefit and will want to return that benefit when they’re in a position to do so. I’ve always believed that an engaged alumni doesn’t happen when the student walks across the stage at commencement. It’s something about their experience and their connection to one another, and the institution that’s been developed while they were students, that’s really going to make a difference in whether or not they will stay involved as alumni.”
He made one last observation: “There’s a very old adage in fundraising that people support what they have ownership in. I think the more you can do to create ownership of the institution amongst students while they’re in school, feeling connected to their faculty members and feeling connected to their fellow students, the more likely it is they’re going to want to maintain that relationship once they graduate.”
About the author
Iris Manning earned her MBA from Northeastern University and studied journalism at Boston University. Her articles have appeared in the Boston Business Journal, Fundbox.com, the Colibri Group, the Worcester Gazette and insomnicat.com.