At many colleges, it starts even before graduation day. It may begin as a request for a “Senior Gift,” or as a gathering to enlighten each senior about the importance of alumni giving to the school. Regardless of how it is first introduced, the immediate goal for a college is to quickly get graduates into the habit of giving back to the school. The ultimate goal is to sustain that generosity for a lifetime. A true indicator of the love for and loyalty to one’s alma mater is the extent to which one is willing to support it financially. It also happens to be a reliable indicator of excellence. As it turns out, graduate giving is a very good barometer of how alumni view their colleges. Those schools with high levels of alumni giving also tend to do quite well on most of the attributes we measure.

This chapter examines the few causal factors that can help explain why alumni give (or do not give) to their schools. As virtually every college struggles through today’s difficult economic environment, knowing what can be done to increase the level of alumni giving is valuable learning. And, since the annual percentage of alumni giving ranges from a high of 60% (Princeton) to the low single digits at many schools, it is clear that some college understand this better than others. Let’s take a look at what can drive such wide disparities.