The Power of Connection: Experiential Engagement and Philanthropy

May 2023 — By BrightCrowd

Due to the current economic climate, many universities nationwide are tightening their budgets and closely monitoring their expenditures. While some have successfully reallocated funding to maintain campus infrastructures, finance academic programs, and support their faculty and staff, others haven’t been as lucky. Some schools have resorted to closing their doors indefinitely and transferring current students to neighboring colleges.

Although these students receive alternative opportunities to continue their path toward higher education, many have chosen to stop their studies altogether. Nearly 53% of students impacted by school closures didn’t re-enroll when it came time to look elsewhere. This trend is detrimental to remaining institutions that rely on steady student enrollment and substantial external funding. If outside factors such as rising tuition costs or the availability of online courses are deterring enrollment, how can universities compensate for these losses?

The answer to this question is relatively simple – colleges and universities need to leverage their relationships with their current alumni and cultivate alumni who have distanced themselves from their alma mater. However, this is often challenging. Institutions must rely on their ability to harness the power of connection – they need to focus on using experiential engagement to drive philanthropy or alumni giving.

What Is Experiential Engagement?

Experiential engagement alludes to the overall experience or takeaway that a person receives from attending an event. For college alumni, this can be homecoming festivities, class reunions, virtual networking or professional panels, or other non-academic programs such as athletics or liberal arts performances. In short, experiential engagement is about creating real community engagement through active involvement.

Are alumni likely to continue engaging in school activities that don’t provide them any personal benefits? Probably not. Schools must interact with alumni in a way that’s meaningful to them – institutions need to help create lasting memories. Not only will this help increase school spirit by attracting alumni to future events, but it can also spotlight the importance of alumni giving.

It's important to note that engagement refers to measuring the impact of community connections and active involvement rather than counting the total number of participants at any given event. A large turnout is great, but how does that benefit the college or university in the long run? How can experiences be used to drive further engagement and enhance the power of connection?

What Is Philanthropy?

“Philanthropy” and “fundraising” are often used interchangeably, yet they aren’t completely synonymous. Philanthropy refers to the private acts or charitable contributions made by a person to benefit those around them – whether it’s an organization, club, or higher education institution. These individuals genuinely believe in creating opportunities aimed at change and growth. On the other hand, fundraising describes donations that’ve been collected due to solicitation by the receiving party. These funds don’t truly demonstrate real community engagement.

Even though both terms relate to the benefits of alumni networks, philanthropic giving holds a deeper meaning and demonstrates the power of connection between alumni and their alma mater.

Are Experiential Engagement and Philanthropy Related?

Yes. Experiential engagement and philanthropy are related to the extent that one can’t exist without the other. To create engaging and memorable experiences for alumni, colleges and universities rely on funding – funding obtained through alumni donations. But why are engaged alumni so willing to donate? They’ve partaken in events that further fueled their drive to support their alma mater and provide opportunities for their peers, future students, and the community. In layman’s terms, money supports the events that promote community connections and alumni engagement, and these relations prompt more giving – and the cycle continues!

Recent studies by CASE demonstrate that philanthropic engagement in the United States represents 46% of total alumni engagement. Although this is the highest level of engagement across any of the four modes, the actual giving rate is low — the average donation rate is only 8%. As a result, colleges and universities must focus on other areas of engagement to help increase giving.

BrightCrowd: Harnessing the Power of Real Community Engagement with Alumni

BrightCrowd’s digital memory books are an excellent way for institutions to create meaningful relationships with alumni while encouraging connections between peers. Throughout the years, schools have relied on tried-and-true methods of communication to remain visible in the eye of their potential donors – they’ve utilized newsletters, brochures, and on-campus reunions to bring alumni together. While these approaches have garnered some success, technological advances can take these efforts to new heights!

Let’s look at the numbers. Although a traditional on-campus reunion typically garners a participation rate of 10-15%, service platforms such as BrightCrowd can increase rates to nearly 30%. How is this possible? By offering an easy to use digital complement, the company allows schools to expand their target audience. Alumni that were previously unable to attend a reunion or event can now participate virtually, allowing them to reap some of the benefits of the event. This concept can apply to other university events such as professional conferences and panels, school milestones, or other celebrations.

The correlation between alumni engagement and funding demonstrates the importance of strategy. Colleges and universities must properly identify the most effective ways to interact with alumni and allocate funding accordingly. BrightCrowd’s customization features and ease of use provide an excellent opportunity to enhance the power of connection.

Contact BrightCrowd to learn more about how we can help you bridge the connection between experiential engagement and philanthropy.