Mobile Commerce Research on Recent Graduates and University Donations
Universities are an under-reported but fascinating segment of mobile commerce. I’ve spent a great deal of time talking to University Advancement and Development groups (aka fundraisers) about mobile technology over the last few months. Here are the results of some research I conducted with MobileFeat, a maker of mobile applications for non-profits. I think these results are interesting to anyone focusing on the twenty-something market segment.
Higher Education fundraisers are finding it increasingly difficult to stay in contact with young alumni. Alumni often move around repeatedly in their early careers. Often schools lose touch with many young alumni.
There has long been a correlation between gifts of any size by young people and large gifts to their alma mater later in life. Therefore, it’s imperative to get young people to donate now if schools want major gifts thirty years from now.
Furthermore, even if schools can contact alumni, Caller ID lets alumni simply screen out phone-a-thon campaign calls. With no prompting, one respondent specifically mentioned using Caller ID to avoid university fundraising calls. So phone-a-thon cost-effectiveness is decreasing despite being staffed by unpaid university students.
What we found
Not surprisingly, a strong majority (87%) of respondents carry smartphones. Half of respondents use an iPhone and nearly a fifth (19%) have a Blackberry.
Similarly, three quarters of respondents (75%) said they were interested in staying in touch with their school and in getting campus news, departmental updates, sports scores, etc. Many of these respondents indicated they already use email and social media such as Facebook to stay in touch with former classmates and their alma mater.
When asked directly about also using a free application to stay in touch with their school, nearly half (43%) indicated they would, even though there are few if any such applications in existence today. Presumably interest would be even higher if such applications were already widely available.
Less than a quarter (23%) of smartphone users graduating since 2005 have donated to their alma mater. Participation rates at colleges and universities vary widely among institutions and across fundraising campaigns. However, in my experience this participation rate falls below Annual Fund campaigns for the universities represented.
With over three-quarters not giving, there appears to be an opportunity to increase donations through more consistent communication with alumni. There is a clear interest from alumni to stay in touch with schools through both mobile applications and social media. Mobile appears to be an untapped platform for University Advancement & Development staff to maintain contact with young alumni and generate net-new donations to universities.
We interviewed recent graduates from around the U.S. in late October and early November 2009. Universities represented include UC Davis, Penn State, Elon, Dartmouth, and Purdue. Graduation dates ranged from 2005 through 2009.
Contact me if you would like to conduct more detailed research on this or other mobile topics.