GG+A Survey Studies Philanthropic Beliefs of Current College Students & Recent Alumni

Respondents are very philanthropic and plan to be so in the future—just not to their alma mater

By Felipe Hernandez

A recent GG+A Survey Lab study explored what factors influence young adults’ philanthropic practices. The Survey Lab analyzed survey results from 276 college students and recent alumni (graduates from the past five years) and gained insights into their giving history, the importance they place on charitable contributions, and how they prefer to learn about organizations to which they might make a donation.

Results showed that most students and recent alumni, even if financially restricted, make monetary contributions to nonprofit organizations. However, none of the survey respondents indicated plans to donate to their alma mater, most choosing instead to support health and human services organizations. This and other key findings from the study have important implications for the methods that colleges and universities should use to encourage giving among their students and alumni.

Giving History

Seventy-four percent (74%) of survey participants indicated they had made a financial gift to a nonprofit organization, religious organization, or charity in the past compared to just 23% who had not. Of those who had never contributed, more than half cited student loan debt or lack of financial resources as barriers to giving. This finding challenges the popular belief that students or recent alumni are not likely to give, instead confirming that a majority of this population is willing to make financial gifts to nonprofit organizations despite their limited resources.

Importance of Charitable Contributions

Two-thirds of respondents said making charitable donations is very important to them when they have the financial resources to do so, and nearly 94% said it is at least moderately important. To determine how much respondents would be willing to give, the survey asked what percentage of a $1 million winning they would donate. Respondents said they would donate, on average, $130,000—or 13% of their winnings—to charity. This finding suggests that many students value philanthropy and are motivated to make monetary contributions when they can. Importantly, though, not one of the respondents indicated that they planned to support their own alma mater—health and human service organizations were by far their most common choices.

Exploring Charitable Organizations

Additional results showed that 35% of survey respondents preferred using social media or online search engines to learn more about the organizations to which they were considering making a donation. Nineteen percent (19%) of respondents relied on their personal experience with an organization to decide whether to donate, and 15% learned about organizations through family. The least common means of learning about charitable organizations were college courses and postcards/letters, with just 2% of respondents relying on these communication channels. This finding confirms the increasing importance of engaging current and potential donors online, especially through social media. Importantly, it also demonstrates that postal mail appeals are not as motivating for young adults and that, over time, this method of engagement could lose its efficacy by a substantial margin.

A previous GG+A Survey Lab research study further demonstrates the importance of social media in driving and sustaining alumni and donor engagement. While there are many ways to engage potential donors, GG+A’s findings suggest that college students and recent alumni are highly philanthropic and that they are connecting with organizations to which they might donate through social media. Nonprofit organizations interested in engaging with young adults should do so through social media platforms. Given the willingness and motivation to give, these findings reinforce the idea that organizations need to “meet donors where they are”—and in the case of young donors, they are online. Colleges and universities, in particular, will need to use online tools to communicate a resonant message to their young alumni in order to demonstrate how their mission has direct and beneficial impact on lives if they are to compete in a crowded philanthropic landscape.

For more information on how the GG+A Survey Lab can help you understand your constituents, contact Dan Lowman, Director of the GG+A Survey Lab at surveylab@grenzglier.com.

About the author:
Felipe Hernandez is a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Felipe is a research intern at GG+A focused on finding trends and insights in informative sets of data for the benefit of non-profit philanthropy.

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