Alumni Participation Will Continue to Affect US News Best Colleges Rankings

Alumni participation's influence on the US News rankings is something development professionals should be celebrating.

Alumni participation’s influence on the US News rankings is something development professionals should be celebrating.

I have great news for higher education development professionals – alumni participation will be affecting the US News & World Report rankings for quite some time! So stop what you’re doing and start celebrating!!

Why, might you ask, is this such a great thing? Because thanks to online and social media, you now have direct control over boosting your alumni participation. With a smart, ambassador-led or crowdfunding-focused strategy, you can drive a significant uptick (1 percent or more) to your institution’s overall alumni giving participation.

Really. Our clients do it all the time. Here’s how:

Build a Robust Online Ambassador Program:

An strong online ambassador program is the single best thing you can do when it comes to increasing new donor participation. During online ambassador fundraising campaigns BWF has either helped produce or has learned about, on average 40 percent of donors who participate in online campaigns are new donors. And we’re not talking about 40 percent of a few dozen donors. We’re talking several hundred or several thousand new donors. Here’s a quick rundown of successful ambassador-led campaigns:

  • UMass Amherst – UMassGives: 1,588 donors during 36-hour campaign (1,056 new, 626 were students)
  • Florida State’s Great Give #1: 1,100+ donors during the 36-hour campaign (380 new)
  • Columbia’s Giving Day #1: 4,940 donors during the 24-hour campaign (Approx. 2,000 new)

People learn of causes to support via social media:

Generally speaking this is true for all nonprofits, but it holds true in higher ed, too. A recent Georgetown University/Waggener Edstrom study found that social media is – by far – the number one way even marginally active online users learn of new causes to support.

So, knowing that statistic, it makes perfect sense that online ambassador programs are so crucial to acquiring new donors. Using a dedicated group of ambassadors to disperse your fundraising asks online spreads those asks out to new potential donors your school or organization had no way of contacting before the campaign. And because people trust a friend’s recommendation above all other forms of advertising, when those ambassadors ask their peers to give, they do.

Donors you acquire online are more likely to become major gift donors: 

Consider this the double bonus of online-acquired donors – they have higher household incomes, give more over their lifetimes, and give larger gifts when compared to those who make their first gift via mail. So, not only will all those new donors boost your US News & World Report ranking, but they’ll also help you close the gap on your overall dollar goal for major campaigns and everything in between. Which, unlike the US News rankings, it TRULY something worth celebrating. 😉

Justin Ware is the author of this post and Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To learn more about the services Justin provides, click here.

3 thoughts on “Alumni Participation Will Continue to Affect US News Best Colleges Rankings

  1. Interesting, important topic. Thanks for this, Justin.

    I don’t think it is valid to state that an ordinary institution can see a measurable effect on its rankings from a small percentage increase in annual giving. Here’s my reasoning…

    Here’s how US NEWS explains the alumni giving component of its ranking scores for the rankings released in September 2013:

    “Alumni giving rate (5 percent): This reflects the average percentage of living alumni with bachelor’s degrees who gave to their school during 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, an indirect measure of student satisfaction.”

    Let’s say a school (we’ll call it Average State) uses ambassadors via social media, and a crowdfunding platform to get more donors. 1% more, which you correctly describe as “a significant uptick.” Here’s my question:

    How much of an effect can this 1% increase in undergrad participation have for a school with an average participation rate?

    This year’s CAE VSE report says that the national average for alumni participation was about <8% for the 951 schools that submitted data for the last two years. If a school went from 8% to 9%, the US NEWS methodology would average that with the previous year's results (let's say they were average last year, and so decreased by 1%, just like the VSE's national average).

    In this case, the year following the 1% increase would see no change in the 5% of Average State's ranking that is based on this metric, because the net change over the previous two years would be 0%.

    A year later, if they were somehow able to add another 1% to their participation percentage, they would now be averaging a positive increase, 1% over the two years being used for the ranking. So 5% of their ranking would be 1% higher… 0.05 x 0.01…. That equals 5/10,000. Not a giant movement of that needle.

    In all except a few very unusual cases (e.g., a school that had never raised money from alumni starts an annual fund and sees its participation go from 0% to 10%), the modest increase from adding or retaining 1% or 2% of donors year over year will actually not have any effect on the US NEWS ranking for the vast majority of ranked schools.

    There are definitely reasons other than the US NEWS formula to increase alumni participation, and you mention some of those reasons. Those are probably much more compelling motivators for increasing alumni participation, compared the prospect of influencing your US NEWS ranking.

    Am I wrong about this?

  2. Very insightful comment, Andy. Thanks for putting so much time into it. You’re right, even significantly boosting alumni participation won’t have much of an impact on the rankings. But, as you said, even if it had no effect, there are many reasons why an increase in alumni giving is a good thing. And if there’s a even a microscopic boost to the US News rankings, then it’s just an added bonus!

  3. Pingback: 5 Innovative Ways Companies and Universities are Using Mobile Networking Events

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