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Data Sheds Light on Alumni Giving

By Mat Olson ’15 on June 24, 2014 11:33 AM

Figuring out why Reed alumni donate to the college may seem like a task for a psychic, but computational biologist Keith Allen ’83 is making strides armed with numbers and know-how.

A member of the Alumni Fundraising for Reed Committee, Allen has been exploring data on alumni giving for the past year. Presenting his findings at a Reunons 2014:Reedfayre Paideia class, “How Reedies Give: An Unapologetically Nerdy Exploration,” Allen showed the audience a new way of looking at (or looking for) alumni who give back to Reed.

The first lesson Allen’s exploration revealed is that consistency is king. Over the last five years, some 1,550 alumni made a gift to Reed every year. Contributions from that group account for a whopping $20 million—the lion’s share of the total amount given to the Annual Fund in that time.

Allen also found that a core group of about 700 alumni has given very consistently, at a participation rate of 75% to 95% since 1974. This group claims close to half of the total giving by alumni to the Annual Fund. The median graduation year of this mainstay group is 1963.

These striking findings were made possible by a new dataset that tracks the amount given by alumni every year from 1974 to present. Using a sorting algorithm, Allen broke up alumni donors into 10 groups, clustered by similar patterns of giving over time.

Applying intuition goes a long way, too. One dataset allowed Allen to see how many Reed events like Reunions an alumna or alumnus attended. Breaking up the data this way confirms that the alumni who go to more Reed events also typically give more. In addition, context matters: Allen found that relatively few alumni from the early ’90s are donors, perhaps due to the turbulent mood on campus coinciding with the tenure of James Powell [president 1988–91].

Another fascinating trend is that recent graduates are giving in greater numbers, and more consistently, than alumni from earlier generations did when they were recent grads. In conclusion, Allen’s work tells us that Olde Reed is alive and well—and giving.