The Alumni Question

← Back to News

Published by Inside Higher Ed

As protests ripple through college campuses, alumni are far from shy in sharing their viewpoints and frustrations with their alma maters. Around the country, alumni responses to race protests are flooding presidents' email inboxes and college's social media accounts. And the heightened attention from alumni - who will sometimes threatened to cease philanthropic support if they're unhappy with an institution's direction - asks the question of whether the racial protests roiling college campuses throughout America also have the potential to negatively impact university funding.

"It's interesting to see how institutions react, and donors will eventually react to that reaction," said David Strauss, a partner with the higher education consulting firm Art & Science.


Strauss recalled an institution his firm worked with about a decade ago that was cracking down on its fraternities after a series of troubling incidents. Alumni were contacting administrators expressing frustration with the crackdown, and the university was worried giving would suffer because of alumni concerns. But a survey of 900 alumni found that less than 1 percent of respondents actually said they’d decrease their giving.

“They were hearing from all the squeaky wheels,” recalls Strauss, who added that a relatively small proportion of alumni at any institution are substantial donors. It’s the big donors that universities should keep in touch with during times of turmoil on campus.

“We used to talk about the 80-20 rule, that 80 percent of the money comes from 20 percent of the donors. For many of these institutions it’s now the 95-5 rule. The concentration has become just amazing,” Strauss said.

Read full article →