Creating a Culture of Giving: Digital Tactics for Students and Young Alumni

Presented by Kendra Saldana

Kendra Saldana said that when Cornell University noticed fewer young alumni (the previous ten graduating classes) were giving to their alma mater, she knew they had try something new.

She just wasn’t sure what.

Kendra and her office ran focus groups, asking young alumni about their barriers to giving. Responses ranged from a desire to give directly to clubs—which alumni could already do—and a need to know more about where their gift was going.

“It spoke to a lack of trust and understanding about what their dollars can do,” Kendra said.

A few key themes emerged from the focus groups:

  • Young alumni feel supporting today and tomorrow’s students is vital.
  • Young alumni need and want an understanding of where their money goes.
  • Young alumni want bolder, cause-based, and results-based messaging.
  • Young alumni need easier giving options.

Kendra shared a few ways Cornell approached its challenge of engaging young alumni and current students and fostering a culture of giving.

The first focused on current students. Using the platform ScaleFunder, students could post projects they are working on and request alumni donations. Not only is the crowdfunding model student-driven—and helps teach students about philanthropy before they graduate—but it also allows young alumni to give to different types of projects on campus.

Cornell also uses the platform Social Toaster through the CornellSOCIAL platform. It allows the University to support social media ambassadors by creating messages alumni can then post on their personal social media channels. Nearly 20 percent of all of Cornell’s ambassadors are young alumni.

Kendra also shared that Cornell has been experimenting with texting alumni to drive donations. The first attempt—it was soft ask that included the link to make a gift—resulted in few gifts. But the second attempt—the text included a strong call-to-action and no giving link—resulted in more than 150 gifts and nearly $24,000 in donations. Fewer than 5 percent of the more than six-thousand recipients opted out.

Kendra wrapped her talk with words of encouragement for communicators working to build a culture of giving among young alumni.

“It’s about showing alumni what they can do… you’re playing the long game.”