Say what you will about the stereotypical elitism and snobbery at Ivy League universities. At least at the Yale School of Management they look after their own. In 2015-2016, for the second time in the school’s 40-year history, the alumni giving rate for the previous fiscal year topped 50%, with some 51.9% of SOM alumni giving back to the school through its Alumni Fund, up from 51.5% the previous year. Total giving also jumped from just over $3 million a year earlier to nearly $3.4 million in 2015-2016; all told, the Yale SOM raised more than $51 million in gifts this fiscal year.
“I think a lot of schools raise $50 million or more in particular years but I don’t know that you see it very often with an alumni participation rate above 50%,” Yale SOM Dean Edward “Ted” Snyder tells Poets&Quants. “I don’t know of any case, myself.”
To be sure, what Snyder is calling the “50-50 rule” is not the B-school norm. And Yale SOM graduates are increasingly cementing themselves as the most generous crop of B-school graduates. Still, one school remains a considerable outlier. “Tuck of course is the leader,” Snyder admits. “And their numbers are staggering. They’re the major outlier.” Indeed, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business remains supremely above the B-school alumni giving norm. Some 70% of alumni from Tuck regularly give back. The total amounts have been just over $6 million the past three years.
MORE THAN DOUBLE THE TYPICAL ALUMNI GIVING RATES AT PEER SCHOOLS
Typically alumni giving rates at top schools hover around 20% to 25%. In recent years, schools like Columbia Business School, MIT’s Sloan, and Chicago Booth have all had alumni giving rates at less than 20%. Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and Harvard Business School typically range in the 20% to 25%, while Stanford’s Graduate School of Business has trended a bit higher in recent years at around 40%.
But considering Yale SOM’s relatively young and small alumni base, the numbers are even more impressive and speak worlds about alumni satisfaction levels. This year the total alumni base topped 7,000 for the first time, and the median alumnus age is still around 45.
Two years ago Snyder, who has served as dean at Chicago’s School of Business and Virginia’s Darden School of Business, set a goal of reaching more than 50% for alumni giving. Mission accomplished. “It’s clearly against trend, based on everything we know,” Snyder says. There were setbacks. In the past decade, the rate came close twice: first, in the fiscal year ending in 2006, when an alumni base of less than 5,000 gave at a 49.1% clip; then, in 2011, the alumni giving rate came close again at 49.3% before plunging to 44.4% in 2012 and bottoming out at 41.7% in 2013.
Since then, Yale’s rate ticked up to 45.2% in 2014, 51.5% in 2015, and 51.9% this year.
‘THERE IS NO MAGIC HERE’
According to Snyder, there have been no significant changes in strategy or outreach. “There is no magic here,” he insists, noting the school’s network of alumni leaders and volunteers. Still, emphasis has been placed on class reunions and class gifts, he says. And it’s the latter that could prove incredibly fruitful moving forward. Across Yale SOM’s three master’s programs — the Full-Time MBA, MBA for Executives, and Master of Advanced Management — 100% of the graduating class of 2016 contributed to the alumni fund. Those numbers will be reflected in next year’s Alumni Fund, Snyder says. “You want to think stock and flow, that’s the flow of new alumni,” he says. “We think we still have upside.”
Where other schools focus on the “spikes” in the gift pyramid tactic of fundraising, Snyder says Yale SOM is using a different tactic — commitment to a unique mission, and communicating it well. A transformational experience plus belief in Yale SOM’s mission of becoming the most global U.S. business school and the school most connected to its home university — that’s what Snyder believes has led to such a generous alumni base.
“The messages are simple, compelling, and also inviting,” he says. “So the sense of team keeps getting bigger and bigger. And more people want to join in.” Snyder reasons that the uptick could also have to do with the repetition of messages. “People actually do understand these key objectives and the focus, repetition, and persistence when it comes to strategy,” he continues. “I think people like that.”
‘WE USE IT TO COVER PENS AND PAPER. IT’S EVERYTHING’
That, and alumni have to be pleased with the school’s recent siege of the full-time MBA rankings and impressive new digs. “We try to do a good job of keeping them informed and excited, and we thank them.”
Snyder believes that through its messaging, which continually points to its two overarching goals, Yale SOM is able to connect strongly with its alumni base.
“Some alumni may not particularly like or know about the global network for advanced management, but they may know about the increased percentage of joint-degree students,” Snyder says. “They may know that the entrepreneurship courses we’ve built out are open to the rest of Yale students. They pick up things and hear basically the same two overarching objectives — work cross campus and work globally — and I think that makes the communication and connection better.”
As for where the fund goes, “it goes to everything,” Snyder says. The school tends to over-spend on scholarships and new programs like entrepreneurship and the global network, he says, and the Alumni Fund helps fill those gaps. “We use it to cover pens and paper,” Snyder says. “It’s everything.”