As the 2nd annual VAESE Alumni Benchmarking Survey is about to be sent to alumni professionals, here are the top three discoveries from the inaugural VAESE study that have elicited the most discussion among alumni/advancement professionals

(About a 4 minute read)

One of the biggest reasons we decided to launch the VAESE study a year ago was to address the considerable lack of empirical data relating to the business of alumni relations and engagement. Although many studies exist for those in development and fundraising, not much exists measuring alumni engagement practices, activities and issues.

Which is probably why over a thousand alumni/advancement professionals have downloaded or read the results of the VAESE study since it was released last March, not to mention thousands of other alumni professionals world-wide who have consumed VAESE related analysis from this blog.  Still others have written about some of its unexpected findings, or argued for or against my conclusions in articles herehere and here.

And as we’re about to start accepting responses for the 2nd annual VAESE Alumni Benchmarking Survey, let’s look back a year to see what we know now that we didn’t know then.

Using common engagement metrics, (i.e. social media engagement and amplifications such as forwards, re-posts, comments; plus new articles written about the study) here are the three VAESE discoveries that have elicited the most discussion among alumni/advancement professionals:

#1-         Most Alumni Organizations Under-Deliver on Benefits & Over Deliver on Solicitations

From the study we learned:

  • 62% of alumni organizations are “not focused on offering alumni any significant benefits,” or instead they “appeal to the philanthropic generosity or loyalty of alumni/ae to (get them to) engage, join, or give.

As it relates to the discussion of benefits, our articles about the The 7 Lamest Alumni Benefits and the The 3 Highest Rated (Not Lame) Alumni Benefits drew spirited debate about the types of benefits that can attract and engage alumni.

We also learned from the study that solicitation appeals are fast and frequent in higher education. For example:

  • 82% of institutions send at least one gift solicitations to new grads within the first year of graduation.

But at many institutions, it doesn’t stop with just one solicitation. 

  • Nearly one-third of schools (30%) send three or more gift solicitations to new graduates during their first year as alums.
  • Even more astonishing is that7% of schools send five or more solicitations to new graduates during their first year.

I argue that, in essence, these organizations are using alumni like the institution's ATM, extracting as much cash as they can from their alumni, ignoring the real costs and long-term consequences of over soliciting.

The survey also showed the result of disengaged, over-solicited alumni, evidenced by the rate at which alumni opt-out (request their record be listed as “Do Not Contact,” “Do Not Call,” “Do Not Solicit, etc.”)

  • One in four institutions suffer from alumni opt-out rates as high as 15-39%.
  • In the past five years, alumni opt-out rates have not improved, or are getting worse at 41% of U.S. institutions.

You can read the article and analysis here and here:


#2-         Successful Dues-Paying Alumni Organizations are Few

From the study we learned:

  • 22% of respondent institutions have a dues-paying alumni membership program.
  • 4% have a tiered benefits model for both alumni and non-alumni.
  • 74% of institutions with a non-dues paying structure.

Of those organizations who have researched the feasibility of adding/removing a dues-paying structure in the past five years:

  • 66% have rejected a dues-paying model.
  • 8% have approved or implemented a dues-paying model.

We also learned that larger alumni organizations are far more successful with a dues-based program than medium and small institutions.

  • NCAA Division 1 institutions (with an annual budget over $1 million or more) see on average 9.1% of their alumni paying dues.
  • Smaller dues-paying organizations (with an annual budget under $1 million) see on average just 3.7% of their alumni paying dues. 

You can see the article and related analysis here:


#3 -        Hiring More Staff Is Not Directly Correlated to Better Alumni Engagement

The survey revealed:

  • 74% of alumni professionals report that being under-staffed is either “very” or “somewhat concerning.”

So in June we released our Staffing & Budget Benchmarks for Higher Education Alumni Organizations. It offers benchmarks that help institutions compare their alumni organizations with peer institutions. It also included data about typical alumni staffing levels, budgets, as well as ratios of professional staff to clerical staff and alumni/ae.

We learned:

  • As alumni budgets grow, more is spent on salaries and benefits (S&B) than on alumni programs.
  • As the number of staff increases, the amount of revenue available to spend per-alum for programs actually declines.


  • Alumni organizations with 25,000 or fewer alumni, spend 26% of their total alumni budget on S&B, and 74% to fund alumni programs.
  • Alumni organizations with 250,000 or more alumni, spend 75% of their budget on S&B, and 25% to fund alumni programs.

You can read the analysis in the article here:


If we’ve learned anything, it’s that alumni professionals hunger for reliable data to make business decisions, and I’m grateful that the VAESE study and our other data sources are viewed as credible and reliable sources.

You can contribute to this important body of knowledge by participating in the 2nd annual VAESE Alumni Benchmarking Survey when you are notified, or by clicking this link here:

I would also suggest you subscribe to our email notifications to make sure you can see the survey results as soon as they are available.


Topics: Alumni Relations & Engagement, alumni benefits, Customer Engagement, value enhancement