CoolData blog

7 December 2009

Scholarship/bursary recipients and alumni giving

Filed under: Predictor variables, Surveying — Tags: , , , , — kevinmacdonell @ 12:45 pm

I’ve attended a number of conference presentations on data mining given by David E. Robertson of Syracuse University (Twitter), and a question I’ve heard him ask more than once is: Are alumni who were the recipients of financial assistance while they were students more likely to give to their alma mater later in life?

A great question, but one we haven’t been able to answer for our own institution, as the historical data on student assistance just isn’t in Banner. So I was itching to get at this when our institution conducted a far-ranging survey of alumni this past spring. The result was a little surprising.

The survey was in fact a national benchmarking study of alumni engagement offered by Engagement Analysis Inc. (I will have more to say about that in the coming months. For now, I’ll say that if you’re at a university in Canada that hasn’t looked into this yet, then do so!)

The survey features a core set of questions which are held constant from university to university, but with the option of adding one’s own institution-specific questions. The results of these questions are outside the benchmarking analysis, so no peer comparisons are possible. But we found some of these questions were definitely worth asking.

Alumni were asked to respond Yes or No to the statement, “I received a scholarship or bursary while attending university.” (David Robertson, if I recall correctly, was specifically interested in students who received need-based assistance rather than merit-based awards, but we chose to lump both groups together. Mistake?)

A little more than 43% of alumni said they’d received one or the other. What was interesting was that they are no more engaged with the university than alumni who answered ‘No’.

The survey was non-anonymous, so we were able to match up survey responses to giving and demographic data in Banner. We found that:

  • average and median lifetime giving were only marginally higher for the recipients versus the non-recipients.
  • the segment of ‘Yes’ alumni who had given any amount in any year was only 1.6 percentage points higher than that of the ‘No’ alumni (51.7% for the Yes group, and 50.1% for the No group).

When the survey results were presented to Advancement staff earlier this winter, we were asked to look at this question again. What about giving specifically designated for scholarships and bursaries? If there is any “gratitude effect,” we would naturally expect it to see it in this area of giving. However, once again, average and median lifetime giving for scholarships and bursaries were essentially equivalent for both groups.

We certainly hear about alumni, often older alumni, who say they are thankful for the chance they received early in life and want to give back. No doubt it is a real force at work somewhere in the psyche of the donor. But it seems to be too subtle an influence to be detected at the macro level, at least for our institution, using the tools described above.

On the negative side, a potential predictor variable has been struck off the list. On the positive side, well, now we know.

Have others tested this? Gone about it differently?

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