Of course, there are also extraneous factors that affect annual giving. At the Johnson School, for example, the alumni giving rate generally hovers in the low-to-mid 20% range. “It’s because the fundraising focus is on reunion years, which are every five years,” adds Cornell’s Thomas. “We try to talk people into a big gift then, and we’re not thinking that’s a mistake because we want to keep people engaged.”
Most public universities also suffer from the assumption that state educational funding is enough. “A lot of people presume that we are supported by the state and as taxpayers most of our alumni have already paid for us,” says Judy Olian, dean of UCLA’s Anderson School of Business. Last year, the Anderson School reported an annual alumni giving rate of 20%, the second highest of any public business school, but still 23 percentage points below Darden.
Part of the explanation, says Olian, is that the vast majority of Anderson School alumni live and work in California and pay taxes to the state government. “California is a big country,” adds Olian. “It’s the seventh largest economy in the world. We’re not Rhode Island. We’re not Maine. We’re not a little regional place. So 75% to 80% of our alumni live here. They are taxpayers here, and they think that as taxpayers they are funding this institution already.”
What makes these B-school leaders truly standout is that alumni tend to be far more generous with their undergraduate alma maters. The top ten undergraduate schools in annual alumni giving, for example, tend to range between 50% and 60% participation. Among the top ten business schools, the range is from Dartmouth’s high of 67% to a low of 16% at Columbia Business School. James Ellis, dean of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School, says that alums almost always are more emotionally connected with their undergraduate institutions. “It’s where you first live when you leave home for the first time, it’s where you might meet your first serious girlfriend or boyfriend, and where you make many of your most important friends,” he says.
So what’s the story behind the extraordinarily high rate of giving at the Tuck School? Besides the obvious affinity MBA alums have for the school, there’s an extraordinary amount of effort and organization behind each year’s well-managed campaign. The school has a student advisory board for annual giving with 25 to 30 current MBA students. More importantly, Tuck enlists 600 alumni volunteers to actively encourage alumi to give back to the school.
“If you are in an office building in New York with 40 to 50 Tuck alums, they are all going to be talking about this right now,” says Celone. “This is a thing of beauty to watch. Volunteers send emails, make phone calls, have annual dinners and cocktail parties and encourage everyone to make a gift. They are very motivated. They love the school, and they get lots of support.”
Even more extraordinary than the overall number, however, is that last year for the first time Tuck’s international alums gave at a slightly higher percentage than those in the U.S. That is virtually unheard of because charitable giving has long been a more uniquely American habit. Tuck’s youngest alumni, moreover, tend to participate at the highest rates, with annual giving north of 90% for classes graduating within the past four years and with rates of in the high 80% for classes out between four and ten years. “It’s the exact opposite of what I see at other peer schools,” says Celone. “They tend to struggle with their youngest alumni and those classes tend to be the largest. So they really impact the overall giving rates at other schools.”
Most alums attribute their gifts to both the fond memories of earning an MBA in Hanover, N.H., in a relatively small and isolated environment. Adds Don M. Wilson III, a 1973 Tuck alum, who is chairman of the school’s annual giving campaign: “If you don’t have a great school and a good living and educational experience, it becomes progressively more difficult to generate loyalty.
“The size of Tuck makes the numbers manageable,” believes Wilson. “For larger MBA programs, it would be difficult to say you knew everyone in your class. You can most definitely say that after spending two years in Hanover. The size of the class, the intimacy between faculty and students, and the fact that Hanover is a pretty tightly knit community increases the probability of cohesiveness.”