Best Practices

3 Alumni Donor Appreciation Ideas to Inspire Lasting Support

3 Alumni Donor Appreciation Ideas to Inspire Lasting Support




June 30, 2022

Last modified: 

Your university likely often brainstorms new fundraising ideas to engage alumni, from Giving Tuesdays to tele-a-thons. However, one of the most effective ways to earn alumni support is to demonstrate your appreciation before making your pitch for a donation. 

According to NPO Info’s charitable giving statistics report, alumni are an important donor group for higher education institutions, contributing approximately 26% of all gifts to colleges and universities. Theoretically, your university should see a regular increase in alumni giving year-after-year as each class graduates and enters the workforce. 


However, universities will only be able to set themselves up for this growing support if they take the proper steps to retain their alumni donors. To help your university improve your alumni donor appreciation strategy and increase fundraising, this article will explore how to:

  1. Send personalized messages. 
  2. Send custom merchandise. 
  3. Host alumni events. 

When reaching out to current and potential alumni donors, keep in mind that just because an alumni isn’t able to give now, doesn’t mean they won’t be able to in the future. Keeping these relationships strong long-term can be well worth the effort.

1. Send personalized messages

Each of your alumni had a unique experience at your university, making life-long connections with professors, faculty, and fellow students. Show them that they are still an important part of this community by reaching out to them with personalized messages.

Basic personalization includes doing small things like addressing your alumni by name. But you can go a step further and create messages that will truly capture their attention by:

  • Creating segmented messaging lists: While there are some emails you may want to send to all of your alumni, such as a monthly newsletter, you can create more personalized messaging experiences for alumni through segmentation strategies. For example, try dividing your alumni donors based on graduation year, donation history, and even major
  • Getting your current students and other alumni involved: Messages from universities often feel more personal when they come from another student rather than a faculty member. Consider employing some of your current students to share their stories and send messages to alumni. Or, consider reaching out to current alumni volunteers to and have then get in touch with their peers to fundraise for your university and connect with their old classmates at the same time. 
  • Sharing their impact: Your alumni want to know that your university continues to improve and give current students an even better experience than when they attended. When reaching out to alumni about donating, share stories about how the campus has improved. 

Personalized messages make your donation requests stronger and show your alumni that your university acknowledges and appreciates their support. Additionally, be sure to reach out to alumni volunteers to thank them for their efforts. This will help secure their support long-term, and may even lead to future donations as volunteers can often turn into donors. 

2. Send custom merchandise

Chances are that you or someone (or many people) you know still have school spirit for their alma mater, even decades later. You can help your alumni continue to represent their school years after graduation with custom merchandise with your university’s name and logo. 

Of course, your university likely already has an on-campus store where visiting alumni can pick up merchandise. However, you can give them more options by creating an online storefront or even sending merchandise in the mail as a thank you for donating. 

When it comes to creating custom merchandise, you can stick to old classic designs or mix things up to create apparel that plays with your university’s branding in a unique way to make items that are stylish and maybe a bit out of the box, but still unquestionably represent your university. For example, try playing with the color and even the overall style of items to create something eye-catching. 

You can also create merchandise lines exclusively for alumni who donate or volunteer. These types of items can make alumni feel not just feel appreciated, but that they are a member of an exclusive group powering their school’s success.

3. Host alumni events

Your alumni all live their own lives now with new friends, coworkers, and family. However, it’s likely that many of them will enjoy reconnecting with old college friends and professors, revisiting campus, and reliving the time spent at their alma mater. Alumni events provide the opportunity for them to do just that and are an impactful way to show that your university still considers them to be a part of their school. 

You can gather your alumni together to show your appreciation and garner support with events like:

  • Galas and mixers: Chances are that most of your alumni will primarily want to attend events not to participate in any specific activity but to socialize with old classmates and professors. Formal galas give them the opportunity to meet up with one another while dressed up. Or you can host a more informal mixer to create an environment where alumni who may not have met before can break the ice and get to know each other. 
  • Talks and presentations: One of your university’s greatest assets is your academic excellence and network of experts and professionals at the top of their fields. While many of your alumni may work in different industries than their major, many will still likely be interested in the same subjects they studied in college and be interested in attending a talk or presentation about new research in their old field. 
  • Virtual events: While some of your alumni may have stayed close to campus, others likely moved far across the country or even out of it entirely. You can maintain these connections by hosting a variety of virtual and hybrid events throughout the year. 


To host an alumni event, use your alumni management tools to identify alumni you would like to invite, create personalized invitations, and track how your event turned out. After each event, follow up with alumni to thank them for attending and create a communication stream to strengthen your relationship and encourage them to make a contribution in the future. 

Your alumni will have a connection to your school forever, and you can transform those feelings into lasting support with the right appreciation strategies. Show donors that their contributions matter by reaching out to them with custom messages, providing them with custom merchandise, and bringing them back to your university with numerous events. Good luck!

About the Author

Kevin Penney has been working in digital media for over ten years. He’s the CMO and co-founder of Bonfire, an online platform that’s reinventing the way people create, sell and purchase custom apparel. He enjoys strategizing, working closely with his team, and hockey, exactly in that order.

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