Doctoral alumni giving: Motivations for donating to the University of Pennsylvania

Anita Mastroieni, University of Pennsylvania


This study sought to ascertain the specific motivations behind doctoral alumni giving. Most U.S. colleges and universities depend on alumni giving to supplement revenues from tuition and governmental support; however, relatively little alumni giving is generated from PhD graduates. The result is untapped revenue for doctoral-granting institutions. Since the experience of doctoral education is vastly different from that of undergraduate education, fund-raising appeals tailored to the undergraduate experience do not resonate with doctoral alumni. If universities can address the distinct motivations for doctoral alumni giving and design fund-raising appeals accordingly, giving will likely increase. This qualitative study involved interviews with PhD alumni from one institution who donate to their doctoral alma mater, combined with institutional alumni giving data, to uncover the motivations behind their giving. This inquiry contributes to philanthropy research because the voices of donors have been largely absent from existing literature. My research uncovered that social exchange theory largely explains doctoral alumni giving. Donors in my study all cited gratitude and indebtedness for the doctoral student funding they received as their motivations for donating. Furthermore, donors who had positive student experiences in addition to funding will give more relative to their capacity. Social exchange motivation can help institutions better understand why doctoral alumni are motivated to give and how to structure doctoral programs to simultaneously promote increased student satisfaction and increased propensity to donate in the future. While a few donors exhibited rational choice theory by expressing a desire to make an impact with their giving, these donors actually used this motivation as a rationalization to give less to the University of Pennsylvania, believing they cannot make an impact at an institution of Penn's size and wealth. In addition, this study shows that PhD alumni with satisfying student experiences and gratitude for their doctoral funding are eager to be involved with their doctoral institutions in appropriate ways. These findings highlight that a distinct fund-raising approach is required for doctoral alumni. Approaches that traditionally work for undergraduate alumni fund raising will not be as effective. Accordingly, I have provided recommendations for doctoral program faculty and alumni relations staff to better engage doctoral alumni, and for fund-raising officers to develop better approaches and appeals for doctoral alumni. These recommendations will hopefully lead to better engagement and giving from doctoral alumni.

Subject Area

Education finance|Behavioral psychology|Social psychology|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Mastroieni, Anita, "Doctoral alumni giving: Motivations for donating to the University of Pennsylvania" (2010). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3421849.