The Impact of Athletic Performance on Alumni Giving: An Analysis of Micro Data
29 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2008 Last revised: 31 Jan 2021
Date Written: April 2008
An 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 de-mographic 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 success of the team on which he or she played as an undergraduate. One 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 on 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 alumnus'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.
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