Is advancement all about the money?

Alumni relations is a critical function of advancement, but it’s not always viewed as such. Working in engagement, I’m often met with the notion that if you’re not bringing in the dollars, then your function is viewed as less important. Although seemingly narrow-minded, I actually appreciate this idea since it has led to some interesting reflection on engagement and its relevance to advancement as a whole. This reflection combined with some awesome insights from the leaders in my world has led me to this conclusion:

We are not in the business of asking people for money, we are in the business of building relationships.

We build relationships with our alumni and prospective donors with the hopes of having the privilege of connecting them to the causes they care about and want to support. Causes that our institutions have invested their own time and resources into supporting.

What does this have to do with alumni events?


Running events is one of our more intimate outlets for engagement and plays a crucial role in building relationships with our alumni. The question is, are these events cultivating that relationship with alumni as donors or merely building the alumni connection?

Donors are very involved with their favourite causes and charitable organizations offline…56% [of donors] attend fundraising events.

Global Trends in Giving Report

Over half of donors attend fundraising events! This presents a big opportunity for advancement shops to move beyond the networking events and reunions and offer events that cultivate alumni as donors.

This events strategy is of particular importance to your young alumni audiences and here’s why:

  1. The alumni connection is at its strongest as young alumni

    Palmer et al. (2016) conducted an important study on brand identification and brand loyalty in alumni. Their findings show that the direct effects of positive academic and social experiences as students on brand loyalty fade over time. This means that students graduate with the strongest alumni connection and if that connection isn’t cultivated, it will become irrelevant. Engagement Services within advancement shops must leverage this connection through inspiring alumni fundraising events that transition this alumni connection into a philanthropic connection.

  2. Young alumni, specifically millennials, want to be involved in their giving like no generation before

    Fundraising events present a valuable involvement opportunity for young alumni. Young alumni philanthropists are looking for a Design Philanthropy Model where they get to be involved in the actual strategy and idea phase of their giving (Foster, 2014). Events that target young alumni as donors, allow constituents to engage with one another on the topic of their giving and further establish their philanthropic relationship with the institution (Pfeffer Merrill, 2018).

  3. Young alumni strongly engage with causes

    Building an event around a cause your institution is addressing is an opportunity for young alumni to spend time learning more about the causes they are passionate about and how they can become more involved in those causes through their alma mater.

Am I saying that all of your alumni events should have a fundraising spin?

Definitely not.

As I said earlier, in advancement, we are in the business of building relationships. Those relationships must be built through a wide spectrum of events that allow for networking, mentorship, nostalgic experiences, and professional development. The implementation of fundraising events and the strategic shift of promoting donor cultivation through events merely presents a valuable addition to your offering.

To get the most out of alumni relations, we need to ensure that we are connecting alumni relations activities back to donor cultivation. On the events side, hosting fundraising events that bring together alumni who share a connection to a specific cause or category of causes helps to foster this cultivation. How fun would a young alumni donor night be? What a fantastic way to build the philanthropic connection and alumni connection at the same time!

Food for Thought

Our institution recently hosted its annual Alumni and Reunion Weekend. I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Alumni Lounge where I was able to chat with reunion groups, offer them awesome swag, and direct them to our attached Starbucks for a complementary beverage. My colleague thought it would’ve been great if we had our institution’s therapy dogs present which serve as an adorable exam stressbuster during the school year for our students. I thought “What an awesome idea!” This would be a great attraction for our dog-loving alumni and would also show the fruits of our donor-supported Mental Health and Well Being Fund.

So do we leave our Alumni and Reunion Weekend as purely a mechanism for fostering the alumni connection or can we use it as an opportunity to connect our alumni to causes they may be passionate about supporting?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, leave a reply!


Foster, D. (2014). Millennials Rush In; Social Economy Booms How Millennials Will Change the Face of Philanthropy. Diplomatic Courier, 8:5, 38-40. Retrieved from:

Palmer, A., Koenig-Lewis, N., & Asaad, Y. (2016). Brand identification in higher education: A conditional process analysis. Journal of Business Research, 69(8), 3033-3040. Retrieved from

Pfeffer Merrill, J. (2018). Three Ways to Reach Those Elusive Millennial Donors. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 65:7, 25-27. Retrieved from:


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