The Impact of Athletic Performance on Alumni Giving: An Analysis of Micro Data
ongoing controversy in the literature on the economics of higher education
centers on whether the success of a school’s athletic program affects alumni
donations. This paper uses a unique data set to investigate this issue. The
data contain detailed information about donations made by alumni of a selective
research university as well as a variety of their economic and demographic
characteristics. One important question is how to characterize the success of
an athletic program. We focus not only on the performance of the most visible
teams, football and basketball, but also on the relationship between an alumnus’s
donations and the success of the team on which he or she played as an undergraduate.
of our key findings is that the impact of athletic success on donations differs
for men and women. When a male graduate’s former team wins its conference
championship, his donations for general purposes increase by about 7 percent
and his donations to the athletic program increase by about the same percentage.
Football and basketball records generally have small and statistically
insignificant effects; in some specifications, a winning basketball season
reduces donations. For women there is no statistically discernible effect of a
former team’s success and current giving; as is the case for men, the impacts
of football and basketball, while statistically significant in some specifications,
are not important in magnitude. Another novel result is that for males, varsity
athletes whose teams were successful when they were undergraduates subsequently
make larger donations to the athletic program. For example, if a male athlete’s
team won its conference championship during his senior year, his subsequent
giving to the athletic program is about 8 percent a year higher, ceteris paribus.