Why Should You Give Back to Your Alma Mater?

Alumni relations office, The Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine, California, USA (Sept 2006)
I'm a firm believer in giving back. I received so much in both formal and informal education during my four years in college, I naturally want others to reap the same rewards I did. It's because of this that I think that if you're able to, you should not only give the your alma mater the gift of money, but also the gift of time.

You might not think of it this way, but you should value your college diploma like a share of stock. Graduates should want to see their alma maters grow in stature, and one way to help out is by giving back. Unfortunately, not enough alumni are giving back to their colleges these days -- and it shows.

Giving back with our money and our time helps support the next generation of students and alumni. When we give back to our colleges, that money goes toward research, scholarships, and new facilities, among other things. It helps increase the stature of the college, making it a better place. Our giving back also affects how employers, grad schools and others see our alma maters.

'Giving Back' Doesn't Have to Mean Money

We often forget that our time is valuable and can be almost as important as any donation we make to our alma maters. Human capital is just as beneficial to the sustained vitality of a university and can be just as important, if not more, than purely financial support.
Colleges and universities need both.

When we give back to our alma maters, we get a sense of satisfaction in knowing that we're furthering the aims of the institution that did so much to educate us and give us a better life.

Alumni typically give back to their schools in proportion to their own gratitude and success. There may be a correlation to poor giving and the realization that our undergraduate degree directly led to a portion of our success.

But should this always be the case? One reason that colleges don't enjoy higher alumni giving is that their graduates often fail to connect the dots of their success to their alma mater.

Giving Back Makes Us Sharper, Too

Education is a never-ending process. We continue to learn even after we graduate. And nothing is often more apparent than when we give back to our alma maters.

Rebecca Stilwell is president of O'More College of Design and a former managing director with Morgan Stanley. "I heard one of our best professors say that he loves teaching because it makes him sharper in his field," she says. "It keeps him current. And every great teacher will say they get more out of teaching than the students."

What better way to stay relevant, sharp, and challenged than to spend time with your alma mater?

Giving Back Helps Your Own Reputation

Helping improve the stature of our alma maters can have a second- and third-order effect on our own lives and the perceived value of our own college diploma.

Whether it's giving our money or our time, we should all want to see our alma maters thrive. Doing so can only help our own lot in life.

"We all want to make the world a better place," Shari Fox, executive vice president of O'More College of Design. "By sharing our time and talent and money with colleges, we do a bit of good and can even change lives by helping a worthy student earn a college education."

Karma and Networking

It's hard to pinpoint where success comes from in our working lives. What about karma? Should that factor into our giving back? And how much does networking through our alma maters play into it?

"[Colleges] need mentors for juniors and seniors and graduate students,"
says Rosemary Guzman Hook, a certified career consultant and owner of Hook the Talent. "They need speakers for career panels, they need photo ops and success stories from alumni."

What about networking with the next generation? Giving back to your alma mater can also help you increase your own network, and there's no better place to start than with the students and alumni of your alma mater.

"You should help your fellow alumni with whatever expertise or connections you can reasonably offer," says Hook. "You'll often get the same in return, and you may even become a recognized resource back at the school, which would open up a whole other wave of new contacts for you."

Are You Giving Back to Your Alma Mater?

Many of the benefits you get from college are intangible, and the things you give back aren't always easy to measure. But one thing is clear: America's colleges and universities today are in desperate need of both financial support and volunteer assistance from their alumni. And giving back now can provide you with dividends for years to come.

Hank Coleman is a financial planner and the publisher of the popular personal finance blog Money Q&A, where he answers readers' tough money questions. Follow him on Twitter @MoneyQandA.

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Pauline Albert

Many have been critical of Hank's column, and I for one agree with him. I have degrees from 3 different universities and have donated from the day I graduated to each of them, and I have estate gifts to them, as well. They are all richly endowed schools, yet the monies alumni give make scholarships and other programs possible. You want your alma mater to get better and better, as that increases the return on your investment. I now am on a board at one of my alma maters and I am thoroughly enjoying giving back in that way. I had outstanding loans when I graduated with my MBA more than 35 years ago, but still donated a little each year. I think that Hank is right and giving back to your alma mater is about making it possible for others to get a similarly great education. Even with high tuition, these non-profit universities are dependent on engaged alumni.

I am sad about the number of people who harbor a bitter taste in their mouths about their alma mater. I am so grateful for all that my education has made possible. I realized early on while in school that I would get out of it what I put into it. I was one of those nerds who was in the library on Saturday nights, and while all my degrees were expensive, every penny has paid huge dividends .... not just in salaries, but more importantly in my appreciation of life's many gifts.

February 16 2014 at 2:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Considering how much tuition those universities are charging, they should have plenty money.

February 09 2014 at 1:08 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply


February 09 2014 at 12:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We're so busy trying to work nonstop to pay back the extraordinary amounts of loans we took out to go to those colleges that we have nothing left to give them money or time-wise. When my college sends me letters asking for donations, I laugh. They offered me no financial aid, except to continue suggesting more and more loans. They didn't help me find an internship like they were supposed to, I did it on my own. And their supposed 95% job placement rate? If you graduated more than a year ago, they really have no interest in helping you anymore. I can't think of a single good reason that I should give them my money or my time.

February 08 2014 at 11:38 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Hank ol' boy you are out of touch. In the 1970's when I graduated I gave to my college. Now across this country college costs are out of reach for students and their families. I went to school on the GI Bill (served twice) and by working part time. Sometimes I would drop out of school to work full-time. I did not owe anything to anyone when I graduated from the University. Today, it is not possible to go to school without incurring a boatload of debt. I see where many public colleges across the land are demanding nada oversight from states and the feds > but please send the money. In the 1950's there was a hunt for domestic communists. Guess what? We found them in the 21st Century. Politicians and special interest people sending boatloads of jobs to communist countries should be tried as traitors to the U.S. of A. I will be helping my Granddaughter when she attends college. Hank you are part of the problem.

February 08 2014 at 3:50 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Give to them? My Alma Mater has the GWB library, simply because his wife went there, and his own Alma Mater is still laughing from when he asked them to build it. Give to them? I'm trying to get a refund!

February 08 2014 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It depends on what university you went to. Those that have endowments in the billions don't need any more money.

February 08 2014 at 1:11 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I used to read the comics in the newspaper but now find this site much funnier. Give back to your college after you pay them a boat load of money, let's help the folks NOT making big bucks is a better idea.

February 08 2014 at 12:29 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Forgot to mention that I do give occasionally to Hillsdale College. Conservative values are timeless.

February 08 2014 at 12:08 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

As a '76 graduate of the University of NC, I was a member of the Education Foundation for years. Then, my beloved alma mater turned left and then left again and I could no longer stomach that my money was supporting leftist faculty and staff that was brainwashing the students into moving toward Socialism. I haven't given a cent in the last 10 years and won't ever again.

February 08 2014 at 12:03 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply