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LGBTQ College and University Alumni Philanthropy

Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Student Affairs Fundraising and Communications
March 19, 2015

Originally posted as part of the NASPA 2015 Knowledge Communities Publication, in today’s post titled "LGBTQ College and University Alumni Philanthropy” Jason Garvey and Noah Drezner talk about fundraising intersecting on our campuses as it relates to equity, diversity, and inclusion.  Click here for more from the 2015 NASPA Knowledge Communities Publication!

LGBTQ College and University Alumni Philanthropy

Advancement staff have struggled to create connections and strategic partnerships with alumni who, historically, have felt disenfranchised on their campuses (Drezner, 2008, 2009, 2010; Gasman & Anderson-Thompkins, 2003; Gasman & Bowman, 2013). Most advancement officers use in their work fundraising and engagement models that were developed for wealthy, white, heterosexual men (Drezner, 2011). However, as financial giving from alumni declined in recent years throughout American higher education, development and alumni relations officers have attempted to recruit and retain donors whom they have not previously engaged (Drezner, 2013). One such group is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) alumni. LGBTQ alumni have unique college experiences that influence their attitudes toward their alma maters and toward giving (Garvey & Drezner, 2013; Sanlo, 2002). This is not surprising, given that scholars have documented the prevalence of discrimination on college campuses for LGBTQ students (Reason & Rankin, 2006).

For example, Rankin, Blumenfeld, Weber, and Frazer (2010) found that negative experiences for LGBTQ students ranged from subtle to extreme forms of discrimination. Among its discoveries, the report indicated that LGBTQ respondents experienced significantly higher amounts of harassment and discrimination while on campus than did their heterosexual and cisgender peers, leading them to develop negative feelings about their alma maters. Further, few campuses make thoughtful efforts to reach out to the LGBTQ communities to gain insights into their philanthropic giving (Garvey & Drezner, 2013). Sanlo (2002) postulated that the combination of negative feelings toward their alma maters and the lack of engagement as alumni may decrease the likelihood of significant giving by LGBTQ alumni.

The National LGBT Alumni Survey

The National LGBT Alumni Survey (Garvey, 2013) was administered in spring 2014 and provides a national perspective on financial giving and volunteerism for LGBTQ college and university alumni, with 3,183 participants representing all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. The study population includes individuals who identify as LGBTQ or another nonnormative sexual or gender identity and who received an undergraduate degree from an accredited nonprofit college or university.

The survey includes four distinct categories related to LGBTQ alumni philanthropy: demographics, undergraduate student experiences, alumni experiences, and philanthropy and giving. Within the framework, five major latent factors influence LGBTQ alumni giving. These latent factors were developed through empirical testing and were grounded in literature about LGBTQ alumni giving (Drezner & Garvey, in press; Garvey & Drezner, 2013) and LGBTQ campus climate (Rankin et al., 2010).

Preliminary descriptive results from the survey yield insights on patterns of giving and related predictors for alumni philanthropy. Among the total sample of LGBTQ alumni, the mean and median response for total lifetime giving was between $50 and $100. Significant predictors of lifetime giving for LGBTQ alumni include having an advanced degree, completing research with a professor, studying abroad, and perception of academic training as an undergraduate student. Regarding student involvement, lifetime giving for LGBTQ alumni is positively influenced by participating in athletics, new student transition programs, social fraternities and sororities, student alumni associations/class giving committees, and leadership positions. Regarding LGBTQ-specific contexts, there are several positive predictors of lifetime giving: belonging to an LGBTQ support/counseling group, knowing “out” LGBTQ faculty/staff, and having positive perceptions of the campus climate. Both work and financial dependency on guardians as an undergraduate negatively relate to lifetime giving for LGBTQ alumni (Garvey, 2013).

Recommendations for Practice

Results from The National LGBT Alumni Survey and related literature on philanthropy among diverse alumni yield a number of practical implications for improving LGBTQ alumni engagement and giving. In recent years, student affairs practitioners have been required to develop skills in fundraising and alumni relations (Puma, 2013; De Sawal & Maxwell, 2014). As such, the following implications offer recommendations for practitioners, specifically student affairs educators and advancement staff.

• Colleges and universities must facilitate a warm and safe campus climate for LGBTQ students and alumni. In order to improve campus climate, student affairs practitioners may develop educational interventions that incorporate issues of social justice to reduce harassment and increase awareness within the classroom and on campus (see Johnson & Subasic, 2011, for examples). If institutions are unaware of students’ perceptions of campus climate, administrators may consider conducting climate and resource assessments for all diverse communities, including for LGBTQ individuals.

• Senior administrators should provide more targeted resources to student affairs educators and advancement staff regarding LGBTQ identities and experiences. Both student affairs and advancement offices may consider consulting associations and reports related to LGBTQ individuals in order to increase or improve training and resources that help them better understand sexual identity and gender identity and expression.

• Advancement staff must advocate for campus resources for LGBTQ individuals. This effort will send a clear message to LGBTQ alumni that the institution cares about the experiences of LGBTQ students and alumni. Advancement staff may consider soliciting LGBTQ and ally alumni, parents, and friends for targeted gifts to benefit LGBTQ communities.

 • Demographic data collection for assessment and research should adequately capture the identities and experiences (both curricular and co-curricular) of LGBTQ graduates so that these alumni may be identified for outreach and solicitation. Advancement offices should ask optional LGBTQ demographic information on data forms and code them as such in records when alumni self-identify as LGBTQ during cultivation or solicitation visits.

 • Advancement staff should create and financially support LGBTQ alumni affinity groups to increase engagement and potential donations. Alumni relations staff may consider developing programs and solicitations that recognize and celebrate salient identities of diverse alumni.

 As institutions begin to realize that engaging disenfranchised alumni is important to expand their donor bases, advancement officers and student affairs staff need to think about how to engage both alumni and students more effectively and in culturally relevant ways. It is important to begin by creating a supportive campus climate while students are still on campus; however, reestablishing relationships with alumni who were disenfranchised in the past is an important step toward bringing them back into the university community.

Click here for more from the 2015 Knowledge Communities Publication!


De Sawal, D. M., & Maxwell, D. (2014). Fundraising and philanthropy in college unions. In T. Yakaboski & D. M. De Sawal (Eds.), Special issue: The state of the college union:Contemporary issues and trends (New Directions for Student Services, No. 145, pp. 49–55). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Drezner, N. D. (2008). Cultivating a culture of giving: An exploration of institutional strategies to enhance African American young alumni giving (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.

Drezner, N. D. (2009). Why give? Exploring social exchange and organizational identification theories in the promotion of philanthropic behaviors of African American millennials at private-HBCUs. International Journal of Educational Advancement, 9(3), 147–165.

Drezner, N. D. (2010). Private black colleges’ encouragement of student giving and volunteerism: An examination of prosocial behavior development. International Journal of Educational Advancement, 10(3), 126–147.

Drezner, N. D. (2011). Philanthropy and fundraising in American higher education: AEHE. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Drezner, N. D. (Ed.). (2013). Expanding the donor base in higher education: Engaging non-traditional donors. New York, NY: Routledge.

Drezner, N. D., & Garvey, J. C. (in press). LGBTQ alumni philanthropy: Exploring(un)conscious motivations for giving related to identity and experiences. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. Garvey, J. C. (2013). Identity and philanthropy: Designing a survey instrument to operationalize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer alumni giving (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://drum.lib.umd.edu/bitstream/1903/14079/1/Garvey_umd_0117E_14166.pdf

Garvey, J. C., & Drezner, N. D. (2013). Advancement staff and alumni advocates: Cultivating LGBTQ alumni by promoting individual and community uplift. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 6(3), 199–218.

Gasman, M., & Anderson-Thompkins, S. (2003). Fund raising from black college alumni: Successful strategies for supporting alma mater. Washington, DC: Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

Gasman, M., & Bowman III, N. (2013). Engaging diverse college alumni: The essential guide to fundraising. New York, NY: Routledge.

Johnson, E., & Subasic, A. (2011). Promising practices for inclusion of gender identity/gender expression in higher education. Charlotte, NC: Campus Pride. Retrieved from http://www.campuspride.org/tools/promising-practices-for-inclusion-of-genderidentitygender-expression-in-higher-education/

Puma, M. (2013). Fostering student affairs and institutional advancement partnerships. In N. D. Drezner (Ed.), Expanding the donor base in higher education: Engaging non-traditional donors (pp. 171–186). New York, NY: Routledge.

Rankin, S., Blumenfeld, W. J., Weber, G. N., & Frazer, S. (2010). State of higher education for LGBT people. Charlotte, NC: Campus Pride.

Reason, R. D., & Rankin, S. R. (2006). College students’ experiences and perceptions of harassment on campus: An exploration of gender differences. College Student Affairs Journal, 26, 7–29.

Sanlo, R. (2002). Scholarship in student affairs: Thinking outside the triangle, or Tabasco on cantaloupe. NASPA Journal, 39, 166–180.