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Dazzle Your Alumni

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If your salary is "growing" (a euphemism for "really small"), your focus may be on buying "food" and "shelter" and not necessarily "alumni giving" or things that require "quotation marks." If your salary is all grown up, you may be looking at different ways to give back to your alma mater. This is your crib sheet for both situations.

Why Small Donations Matter

Schools need your participation, even if the donation is only $10 or $25. Why?

Rankings. For better or for worse, many people judge the stature of a school based on the college rankings in US News & World Report magazine.

Five percent of a school's overall ranking in US News is based on "alumni satisfaction" which is based on only one factor: percentage of alumni giving. It's shallow, we know, but if MTV has taught us anything, it's that shallow sells. Since the giving rate is usually lowest in young alumni, increased participation can have a real impact on rankings.

Funding. Many colleges apply for grants from foundations that require a school to include its alumni giving participation in its application. More alumni giving participation can result in more grants for the school.

Participation not only helps the school, but it helps you as well. For the rest of your life, you're branded (on a place on your back that you can only see with two mirrors) as "a graduate of xyz school." Every time you apply for a job or your team wins a game, you're an xyz graduate to your friends and colleagues. A more "prestigious" school (as a result of alumni giving) can increase the value of your degree.

Money adds up. Even if your giving is small, you'd be surprised at how quickly gifts in the $10 to $100 range add up. Giving helps bridge the gap between tuition received and the cost of running a school, which can be huge when you factor in financial aid, salaries, building maintenance, and so on.

Giving When You're Not Broke

You don't have to win the lottery to leave your mark (although winning never hurts). A "small" gift can potentially endow a scholarship to help students pay for college.

Instead of giving now, you can name your alma mater as a beneficiary of your life insurance, will, or retirement plan assets. This planned giving may also have positive tax benefits for you.

Unsurprisingly, giving can be pretty easy. Instead of sending a check, you may be able to set up automatic payroll deductions, donate securities, or give non-monetary items.

Some companies offer matching gift programs for their employees. For example, if you give $100, your employer gives $100. And then, before you know it, the football stadium is named after you.

Story Time

Bert loved his alma mater, but when the phone call came for a small donation, his part-time position at HotDog Heaven didn't exactly "cut the mustard" for producing disposable income.

But that wasn't going to slow him down. Bert "borrowed" some lemons from a neighbor and set up a lemonade stand. After customers yelled, he realized he needed money to buy sugar. He started a dog-walking business, but after two bites to the leg, he needed money to buy a Rabies shot.

While at the hospital, his luck changed as he ran into a loan officer from his bank. "I need money to pay for a Rabies shot so I can walk dogs to make enough money to buy sugar for the lemonade I'm selling to raise money to send to my alma mater."

Bert's earnestness got him a loan, and all was right with the world ... until he went to mail the check to his school and realized he didn't have money for a stamp.