President's Blog

Alumni giving is on the rise, but it must grow faster, farther

With Janet Bingham, President, George Mason University Foundation

Alumni giving is on the rise at George Mason University. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of alumni donors increased by 8.65 percent and the dollars gifted increased by 72 percent. In the past few years, we’ve seen our first million-dollar gift from an alumnus and an increase in major gifts. Alumni have contributed to four back-to-back record years and our approaching our campaign goal ahead of time. This support has made a tremendous impact on our university and students, including through scholarship endowments.

Increasingly, your fellow Mason alumni are recognizing that an investment in Mason can make a difference in the lives of our students, in the strength of our community, and in the value associated with their own degree. Alumni philanthropy demonstrates your confidence in your alma mater. It brings prestige to the university — and to you.

Now that we have joined the ranks of Carnegie Classification Research 1 universities, a prestigious distinction that signals our accomplishments and capabilities, we have a new set of peers to benchmark against. And when it comes to alumni giving, we’ve got some catching up to do to.

Among top-tier research universities, the percentage of alumni who give to their alma mater is 14.2 percent, averaged over the past five years. At Mason, the comparable rate is 5.3 percent, according to the Voluntary Support of Education survey.

Alumni giving at public universities is generally lower than at private universities, so perhaps a more fair comparison for Mason might be public top-tier research institutions. There, too, we lag behind. In FY2015, 3.6 percent of alumni made a gift to Mason, compared to the average 9.1 percent among the public highest research activity universities, including 18.4 percent at the University of Virginia, 9.3 percent at Virginia Tech and 6.2 percent at Virginia Commonwealth.

Other than the fact that we are younger than our peers, there is no reason why our alumni giving should be lower than theirs. Our graduates are among the best-paid in the job market in Virginia and have one of the lowest student loan default rates in the country. We prepare and position our graduates for success. We have a proud tradition of being innovative and succeeding where others don’t expect us to succeed.

We’ve come a long way in a short time.We have grown from a regional satellite campus of the state’s flagship university to become Virginia’s largest research university within four decades. We have built an incredible university that is serving students from across our region, state and country, and from around the world. You are part of that unfolding story.

At Mason, we know how to create and capitalize on opportunities. But in order to make the most of every opportunity and create the best possible learning environment, we need everyone’s support. We look to our alumni because we know that you understand the transformational power and potential of this university. When you give back, you ensure Mason’s success now and for the future. 

Let’s start a dialogue. What about Mason makes you feel proud? I would like to know if you give (anywhere), and why you give. What motivates you to be philanthropic in your life? If you have not yet given a philanthropic gift, are there specific barriers that you would like for me to understand, obstacles that we could overcome, or ways that we could engage you that would make you feel more connected to your alma mater?

A recent study conducted by Cygnus Applied Research indicated that some alumni do not give to their alma mater because they don’t believe there is a need. Trust me, alumni contributions can and do make a tremendous impact in any program you wish to support.