Temple adjusts alumni donation engagement strategy

The university is adjusting its alumni donation engagement strategy amid application and tuition increases.

Temple adjusts its alumni donation engagement amid application enrollment and tuition increases. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

For students at Pennsylvania’s other state-funded public schools, like Pitt and Penn State, large-scale donation events like Pitt Day of Giving and Penn State’s GivingTuesday are deeply ingrained in the fabric of the university.

Many of these events require students to have flexible schedules and the financial means to donate. At Temple, some students, like Sinh Taylor, feel like they don’t belong at alumni events because they are nontraditional students and are busy with the workload of being a graduate student. 

“I’m a very non-traditional student, like I’m almost 40, I’m part of the older bracket,” said Taylor, a social work graduate student. “It seems like if you’re a recent alumni who’s in that age bracket, you’re kinda like looked over.”

Even so, events like Temple Giving Days don’t come close to bringing in the amount of funding as Pitt and Penn State’s events do.

More than 11,700 donors contributed $2,466,661 on Pitt Day of Giving in 2024, while Penn State’s 2023 GivingTuesday raised $1.4 million. Temple’s 2024 Giving Days brought together just more than 1,400 donors contributing roughly $600,000.

In the past, Temple hosted two major alumni engagement events dedicated to fundraising: Giving TUesday and Temple Toast. Giving TUesday occurred annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, while Temple Toast took place in March. Both events aimed to inspire philanthropic donations to enhance student opportunities.

Temple Giving Days is a weeklong fundraising initiative that evolved from the university’s former Day of Giving campaign, Temple Toast, wrote Keri Robinson, the executive director for advancement communications, in an email to The Temple News. 

“While Temple Toast was a one-day event focused on crowdfunding, Temple Giving Days extends the spirit of giving over an entire week,” Robinson wrote. “This allows for a more extensive celebration and engagement with the Temple community, offering more opportunities for participation and impact.”

Temple’s alumni engagement team aligned Temple Giving Days with Temple Made Days, the annual spring programming that focuses on celebrating Temple alumnus and donor communities. 

Such funding enhances every aspect of campus life, from student scholarships, to classroom improvements, research and technology upgrades, extracurricular activities and more.

“By extending the time frame to a full week, and rebranding and aligning Temple Giving Days with Temple Made Days, we significantly enhanced our engagement opportunities, enabling all schools/colleges and units within the university to participate,” Robinson wrote. 

Contributions from alumni play a crucial role in sustaining Temple by enhancing its infrastructure and offerings and increasing student scholarship opportunities. These donations enable the university to finance research endeavors and foster pioneering initiatives, ultimately influencing its ranking. However, the frequency of donations can depend on the enrollment size of the university. 

Penn State’s numbers are larger in comparison due to an overwhelmingly higher enrollment size and alumni network, but Temple and Pitt are comparable, with a total Fall 2023 enrollment of 33,771 students at Pitt and 30,530 at Temple. 

Enrollment at public Pennsylvania universities fell 4.1% in 2022, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. In the years following the COVID-19 pandemic, Temple experienced a 21.8% decline in enrollment, with student numbers dropping from 39,088 in 2019 to 30,530 during the Fall 2023 semester.

Temple reported a record number of applicants for the Fall 2024 admissions application period, and received more than 39,000 applications as of April 1. 

Scholarships supported by alumni contributions serve to alleviate the financial strain on students, making higher education attainable for deserving individuals. They also help with operational and mundane fees, like electrical and maintenance fees and expenses. 

During this year’s Temple Giving Days, the university launched a three-year initiative to raise $125 million in direct scholarship support. Through Made for More: Prioritizing Scholarships at Temple, the university aims to make a Temple education more affordable for current and future students.

However, some students aren’t inspired to donate on Temple Giving Days due to the rising cost of education.

Connor Griffin previously donated funds to receive a pint glass, which resulted in his name being included on a donors list and led to multiple letters being sent to him, he said.

“I think a lot of us are kind of in this position the first couple of years after we graduate, where we’re just trying to find a job and afford our rent, especially when you’re in a bigger city, like LA or New York,” said Griffin, a 2016 film and media arts alumnus. “So, of course, the last thing I have around is extra money, especially to donate to Temple, even if I may have wanted to.”

To target all streams of potential donors, the university engages with alumni and donors through a targeted, multi-touch marco-communications campaign that spans from direct mail, email, social media and the use of Temple ambassadors.

Griffin suggests that those responsible for creating donor mailing lists should consider an individual’s  graduation year, as recent Temple graduates may still be dealing with student loans or striving to secure well-paying jobs.

Temple’s Board of Trustees approved a 4.2 and 4.4% tuition hike for in-state and out-of-state students respectively as part of the 2023-24 budget, marking the third consecutive year of cost increases following a tuition freeze during the 2020-21 year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Others may have existing student loan debts that need to be paid off. 

More than 43 million borrowers in the United States have federal student loan debt, with the average federal student loan debt balance being more than $37,000, according to the Education Data Initiative, an organization that collects data on the United States education system.

Despite Temple’s dedication to connecting young alumni directly after graduation, some alumni like 2023 finance alumna Kajal Bharany believe alumni engagement should first share the perks of alumni status, like Temple’s professional network, before asking for donations. 

“I think they need to do a better job at highlighting their alumni as well and reaching out to them to promote their success story,” Bharany said. “From a macro perspective, Temple in general, could have better and more engaging resources.”

Student organizations like Greek life and Student Professional Organizations should also take an active role in engaging with their alumni and bringing them back to campus, Bharany said.

A variety of activities and communications are shared with seniors throughout their final year, aimed at preparing them for life post-graduation, Alumni Relations wrote in an email to The Temple News. Events like GradFest and Leaving the Nest serve as crucial touchpoints, where seniors are not only celebrated but also encouraged to explore the many alumni resources, opportunities and ways to stay connected.

“For those 30 years old and younger, the Temple University Young Alumni Association becomes a hub of support, opportunity and connection,” wrote a representative from Alumni Relations. “Young Alumni are invited to participate in both in-person and virtual social and professional development programs, and resources targeted to this population’s needs.”

Temple specifically engages with young alumni and they’re invited to participate in both in-person and virtual social and professional development programs. 

The university’s alumni association also utilizes young alumni volunteer leaders who serve as ambassadors and the voice of the community, ensuring that the association supports the evolving needs of young Owls as they navigate life beyond Temple, Robinson wrote.

“Events like Temple Giving Days serve as a reminder of the collective impact that alumni can make when coming together to support Temple and the significant impact that can have in shaping the university’s future and supporting current and future generations of Owls,” Alumni Relations wrote. 

Julia Merola contributed reporting.

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