Going for the Great

University_of_Virginia With the uptick in the US and global economy, it’s no surprise that many universities are embarking on large capital campaigns. These campaigns will likely consist of student dialing, discussions with a few very major alumni donors, and some pressers with mass affluent alumni. There are (to be general) two groups of folks that are the target – those who have had wealth while they were in school, and those who made money a while after graduating. Chances are, those who had wealth in school have long been on the road to committing some of their donated funds to their alma mater, with the time and attention they attract well before they have started school. What about the other groups with the means to make a donation? Those folks who ‘made it’ 10, 20, or 30 years after their graduation have probably received substantially less attention. They may also have gone to graduate school elsewhere. Those folks may not be interested in a one-way transaction to the school, and a phone call when their startup is acquired 25 years after graduation may have mixed results. Most folks I know that made serious money have, on principle, stayed close to people who knew them when they were not wealthy. Added approaches for Universities to engage alumni are critical. No one wants to be on either end of that call after 25 years of near-silence. That’s where a University Alumni Fund can have potential. By creating an option for alumni to invest with a goal to receive returns on their capital, there are wins on both sides of the process.
  1. Alumni could be more likely to engage with other alums in similar situations, that group of engineers that didn’t run in the same circles as the ‘monied’ students.
  2. Most folks who angel invest made their money as entrepreneurs. That’s a nice correlation for an early stage investment fund, rather than a university donation.
  3. The alumni have the goal of a return, and if a company from their alma mater succeeds, it’s better for their own career.
  4. Profits of the fund could be donated in part to the University involved.
  5. Alumni will receive positive engagement with interesting companies as the fund progresses, and that effect could bring on the affiliation they may lack.
Interestingly, all types of alumni can be engaged with a University Fund – including the entrepreneur trying to take their degree and have their first success. At schools where venture firms don’t often invest, it’s that much more helpful to support entrepreneurial graduates in this way. In a world where folks define themselves in so many ways, Universities can help make a connection and reignite school pride by considering an early-stage fund. As John D. Rockefeller said, “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”

Shereen Shermak, CEO


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