UCI Works to Raise Low Alumni Giving Rates

With over 100 employees, University Advancement, headed by its vice chancellor Thomas Mitchell, plays a vital role in the UC Irvine community by raising private support and alumni donations. However, UCI still lags behind many universities in alumni giving. The latest U.S. News and World Report ranks UCI 181st out of 248 research universities in that category, which raises the question: Why do UCI alumni give at lower rates than alumni at other universities?
Jorge Ancona, executive director of the UCI Alumni Association, said that public universities have a disadvantage compared to private universities because of a misconception of how public universities are funded.
‘Part of the reason why alumni giving is not as high as we want it to be is because public universities in general have historically enjoyed support from the state at a much higher rate,’ Ancona said. ‘At one point, UCI used to receive 70 percent of its funds from the state. Today that number is less than 20 percent.’
Michael House, associate vice chancellor of University Advancement, shared a similar view as Ancona and said that public universities are at a disadvantage because they have only recently begun to seek private support.
‘In public universities, we’re relatively new to stating our case that we’re not supported by the state any longer. We are assisted by the state,’ House said. ‘Fundraising is relatively new to public universities whereas it goes back hundreds of years in private universities.’
In addition, Ancona said that private universities are better at convincing students to donate.
‘I don’t think we as an institution have done a good job of telling a compelling story to alumni as to why they should donate,’ Ancona said. ‘At private schools, from the moment you step on campus, there is an expectation that when you graduate, you will give back. I’m sure administrators there play in the role of communicating the importance of giving back.’
Out of the $66.4 million in donations received by the university from private sources in the last fiscal year, $1.7 million came from alumni giving, $13.5 million from private citizens who aren’t alumni, $13.5 million from corporations and $31.9 million from foundations. The rest are from other sources. A significant portion of the $66.4 million was the $20 million gift that resulted in the naming of the School of Information and Computer Science for Irvine Company chairman and philanthropist Donald Bren.
Donations reached over $87 million in the 1999-2000 fiscal year due in part to a donation from Broadcom Chief Technical Officer and Anaheim Mighty Ducks Owner Henry Sameuli that resulted in the naming of the School of Engineering in his honor.
Although alumni support only constituted 2.6 percent of overall giving in the 2003 to 2004 fiscal year, due in part to the large gift from Bren, on average over the last five years, House says that alumni giving has around 5 percent of total private support. He says that their goal is to increase alumni donations to 10 percent of overall giving, but didn’t specify a date by which University Advancement plans to reach it.
Because of several factors, House says that the university is targeting corporations and private citizens for donations, although the department is actively reaching out to all sources of private funding.
‘Because of the relatively young age of our alumni, our fundraising has been more focused on people who live in Orange County who have a connection to UCI but aren’t alumni, people who know the value of having this university in the community,’ House said. ‘We live in a part of the country with a lot of corporate presence, and we try to take advantage of that and encourage them to support UCI. … While alumni continue to donate, the gift size is smaller and they don’t have the disposable income to make those large gifts. We thoroughly expect that to increase in the next 10 to 15 years.’
University Advancement’s efforts are paying off. In the 2001-2002 fiscal year, private giving totaled $35.6 million and increased the following year to $57.3 million and reached $66.4 million in the last fiscal year. Over halfway through this fiscal year, its goal is to raise $70 million, which, according to Ancona, is well within its reach.
Because of the far-reaching effects that USNWR rankings have on universities, UCI is also working to improve on the magazine’s alumni ranking, which is an average of the percentage of alumni who gave to their alma mater in the two previous fiscal years. This measure constitutes 5 percent of the rankings for research universities.
Nine percent of UCI alumni donated according to this measure. This is lower than at other UC campuses, including UC Santa Cruz (18 percent), UCLA (16 percent), UC Berkeley (15 percent) and UC Davis (10 percent). However, these numbers for the UC campuses are well below some of the top private universities where over 30 percent of alumni donate. At the top Ivy League schools, this number is almost 50 percent.
According to Ancona, UCI’s goal is to raise alumni giving up to 12 percent in USNWR’s measure, but admits that it is going to be difficult.
‘I do think we can do better. I do think the rates are low,’ Ancona said. ‘Moving this number up is tough for U.S. News and World Report. … You look at UC Berkeley and UCLA, and they’ve been established a lot longer than we have and when you look at their percentage of alumni giving, it’s still low compared to private universities. But what a lot of people don’t understand is that [USNWR] measures alumni giving not by a dollar amount, but by the number of alumni who donate, regardless of amount.’
Ancona said there are many factors that lead some students to donate.
‘The longer you are a student here, you’re more likely to give,’ Ancona said. ‘If a student is active with UCI in some capacity after graduating, you’re more likely to give back because you feel like you’ve invested in this institution. We also notice that once you get into a habit of giving, with time, the size of the gift increases.’
Both Ancona and House cite many reasons for students to donate once they graduate.
‘Many of the scholarships that our graduate students receive and many of the buildings where our students have classes were given by alumni, friends, corporations and foundations. Much of what our students benefit from is from private support,’ House said. ‘It isn’t always clear and obvious, but private donations fund these projects.’
‘The university is going to be around,’ Ancona added. ‘But it’s that additional private support from alumni and friends that makes the quality of the education that much more exemplary.’
Some students have already taken that message to heart.
‘I do plan on giving back to UCI because I like the school and it’s opened a lot of opportunities for me and I think it will for others,’ said Jeff Monday, a fifth-year economics major. ‘It’s not to your advantage not to give back to the institution because the greater the institution is, the better it looks for you. The better the institution continues to build itself up, it only helps you out on a resume.’
However, some students don’t believe they’ll donate when they graduate
‘I will most likely not give back because I’m just going to school here,’ said Bryan Jeon, a second-year criminology, law and society major. ‘With our school, there isn’t a lot of school spirit and all everyone cares about is attending the school and when they graduate, that’s the end of it.’
Tova Hack, a second-year sociology major, says that she would not donate because she has already invested a lot into the university.
‘I would not give back because I’ve already given enough money for tuition,’ Hack said.

Contributions made by Christine Tsai