How to Give Back As an Alum Without Opening Your Wallet

empty wallet

I don’t know about yours, but my alma mater’s alumnae donations office calls at least once a week. The exchange usually goes something like this:

Me: Hello?

Them: Hi! Is Shane Zackery there?

Me: *cautiously* This is Shane.

Them: Oh, hello! We’re excited and honored to welcome you to the Alumnae Association.

Me: Omg, thanks! That’s so nice.

Them: Yeah… yeah, so did you want to give a gift of $20.14 to Scripps in honor of your class year?

Me: *fake static or go silent until they hang up because hanging up on people is rude but then put them on “block calls from this number” list*

Somehow they always seem to get through anyway. It’s a mystery!

I have to admit though, the whole $20.14 (class of 2014… get it?) gimmick is pretty cute.

As recent alums, we are prime targets of fundraising for our institutions. They produce us, promote us, and give us a great education. Why wouldn’t we be expected to give a little in return?

I’m all for giving back to my college. I was super involved on campus while I was attending. I built community and made ties that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. The truth is, however, that I can’t really afford to give them my money.

Also, I’m a selfish middle child—I don’t wanna. At least, not right now. I need it for pizza (and the lactase pills that follow because… lactose intolerance? Whatever.)

Instead, here are some ways in which you can give back as an alum right now, with involvement instead of Benjamins.

  • Be an alum interviewer. Many colleges offer this alternative to on-campus interviews. Alums from all over the country can volunteer to interview prospective college students in their area who are too far away to make it to campus in person.

Giving back in this way means that you stay informed on what types of students may be part of your network in a few years. Students also get the chance to start their own network early and your college doesn’t lose out on admitting excellent people just because of distance.

Also, think of all the power! Just kidding.

  • Attend alum networking mixers. Hopefully your career center is hip to the fact that current students love meeting alums from their college who’ve made it, especially recent grads who’ve figured out how to afford to live while balancing work and fun. If your college is hosting this type of event, be sure to RSVP. Go be a hero! Wear a cape and everything!

  • Signal boost job opportunities. Actively contribute to people’s perceptions of the worth of your degree by sharing job and internship opportunities offered by your company to others at your former school. Having a reputation for producing students who get jobs is good not only for the university, but for everyone who attends.

If you love your company and your school, this is one of those times where it’s totally fine to be that guy.


Make a love connection between employers and your fellows. Hire a current student using very few resources via an externship, or suggest that your career resource center reach out to other alums to do the same.

Read more about AfterCollege’s experience with hosting an extern here.

Lori Shreve Blake, Senior Director of Alumni and Student Career Services at the University of Southern California, recently spoke at the National Association of Colleges and Employers Conference (NACE) about how this type of outreach allows your campus to benefit from developing new partnerships with businesses. Her talk, “Serve Your Recent Grads & Alumni with Limited $$”, covered the college-side of the larger issue of alumni engagement, reminding us that participation is a two-way street.

  • Organize student events on campus*. Students are busy. Duh. If you have something to share with them, meet them halfway… or all the way. Contact your alumni/ae office and organize an on-campus event with students from a club or organization that you were a part of.

*Bonus points if you can get the office to sponsor the event and pay for food!

  • Open up your home. Do your parents have an extra bedroom open in the city this summer? Post about it in a current student Facebook group. Helping out someone’s kid is a great way to get the attention of an adult who can help you open doors. It also speaks to the generosity of students from your school and fosters a sense of community amongst people across class years.

Do you have a needy cat that needs constant petting? Rest your hand by inviting some fur-deprived first-years over for dinner to do the work for you. You’re going to be needing that hand for writing cover letters and updating your résumé. This is a win-win situation.

Do you have professional advice to share with current seniors, but you feel it’s too soon for you to step foot on campus again? Throw a night of drinks, tips, and tricks for of-age students looking for a competitive edge.

Take the game to your home turf and bring that medal home, because you are winning in the Alum Olympics without spending a dime!

  • Offer up your office. Suggest to your boss that opening up your office to host college events is a good opportunity to build partnerships and show off your space. Invite a career services team member to bring a group of students to visit for a “real world trip.” Show them what a day in the life is like at your company or for someone in your position.

  • Sign up for a day of service. Who says that going into the community and helping others has to stop just because you graduate? Organize a group of local alums to meet the organizing current students at whatever shelter, garden, or school that they’re visiting. Show students that a day of service can be a lifetime habit for those from your alma mater.

  • Build or contribute to a project that benefits current students and alumni. Stay plugged in to any message boards or websites where people from your school post useful information. Clue others in on any goods, services, or jobs that people are offering or looking for. If your school doesn’t have something like this, start one of your own! Be sure to update regularly.

Sometimes it may feel like you’re invisible to your old school if you’re not donating. Gift givers are offered all sorts of cool benefits, like front row seats at community concerts and shows, fancy brunches, and swag galore.

I promise you that you’re just as cool as those people. You’re just in a different situation financially right now—and that’s okay!

Some folks, especially those who are first-generation scholars (the first in their families to attend and graduate from a four-year college or university), don’t have years of experience with the tradition of gift giving. My family doesn’t understand why they get a call every month from some sophomore asking for $20. That call is usually followed by one to me from my Nana asking why I don’t call as often as I should. Trouble makers.

Alums with working-class backgrounds are also not often considered in this whole donations game. Is it really necessary for someone to be asking for a piece of your disposable income when this may be the first time in your life that you actually have one?

It may not seem like it at times, but your college cares about more than just your money. Your time, dedication, and sense of pride as an alum are just as important. Sometimes they just need a friendly reminder.

Homework time! Don’t be afraid to give your alumni association alternative solutions for blowing up your phone asking for cash. Be the one to encourage them to ask for volunteers or hosts for their next event. Staying connected to your alma mater doesn’t have to cost you anything!

Don’t Forget: Your worth to your university should not be measured by how many buildings are in your name, but how many Phonathon callers you can hang up on…

Just kidding.



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