Alumni advocates

The non-monetary ways alumni can support universities

As the costs of higher education continue to rise, universities are turning to their former students for financial support in the face of declining government funding. 

As a result, university leadership are placing a strong focus on motivating alumni to contribute financially to their alma maters.

However, the emphasis on financial donations has overlooked the crucial non-monetary support roles that alumni can play. 

In a study published in 2008, David J. Weerts and Alberto F. Cabrera from the University of Minnesota and Thomas Sanford from the University of Maryland highlight the need to expand the understanding of alumni involvement beyond just charitable giving. 

Focusing on American colleges and universities, the authors suggest that alumni’s non-financial support can be split into two areas: political advocacy and volunteerism. 

Alumni can offer non-financial support through political advocacy, such as reaching out to lawmakers, governors, and local politicians, and through volunteer work, like mentoring new graduates, bringing in new students, and taking part in special occasions.

The researchers used Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) to develop their analysis. 

This approach helps understand how alumni support their former universities. 

They looked at things like whether alumni contacted their local politicians or mentored new graduates and if these behaviours were related in any way.

Using CFA, they were able to see if alumni behaviours could be grouped into different categories. 

This information could help institutions better understand how to involve alumni and who is most likely to get involved.

The researchers used three theories – social exchange, expectancy, and investment – to explain why alumni may choose to support their alma maters. 

Social exchange theory suggests that alumni service is determined by weighing the costs and benefits of their previous and current experiences with the institution. 

Expectancy theory proposes that alumni make decisions to support their alma mater based on expectations of future events and their ability to make a difference in the organisation. 

The investment theory argues that the depth and quality of an alum’s history with the institution determines the type of alumni volunteerism.

The study rejected the conception that non-monetary alumni support can be understood through just a single domain, such as donors or volunteers. 

They found that alumni support their alma mater in various ways beyond just giving money and that this support can be grouped into two dimensions: political advocacy and volunteerism.

Political advocacy involves contacting state officials and local politicians to promote the university’s interests. 

Volunteerism involves mentoring new alumni and recruiting potential students.

Alumni engagement is best understood through distinct behaviours, such as mentoring, student recruitment, and participation in special events. 

These behaviours are often less structured and may take place independently of institutional guidance.

The study also found that alumni who are politically advocating on behalf of their institution are likely to also serve as volunteers. 

The study suggests that alumni relations professionals could eventually match unique service opportunities (political and volunteer) with those graduates most likely to serve in these roles. 

However, before these practical steps are made, many important research questions must be addressed to understand the attributes of alumni who may be inclined to take on political advocacy roles, volunteer roles, or assume both roles.

Overall, the study provides important perspectives on both a practical and theoretical level, but it has limits since it relies on data from a single institution. 

Future studies could expand the dataset to include multiple institutions with a diverse set of missions.

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