Paying it forward: fostering a culture of philanthropy among pharmacy students

Vindya Perera, MPH, PharmD Candidate Class of 2023, Mary E. Fredrickson, PharmD, BCPS

 “Advancement is building for the future, ensuring the success of students who are on campus now and for generations to come. What better way to ensure this outcome, than by involving students in linking the past with the present and the future.”

– Barbara Todd, Student Advancement Programs: Shaping Tomorrow’s Alumni Leaders Today

Pharmacy students are not only future leaders of our profession but future alumni leaders of their institutions. Colleges of pharmacy rely on alumni service and philanthropic donations to support current students and help ensure the continued success of their programs.1 Without these philanthropic contributions, institutions may have to resort to raising tuition to offset decreased state funding.1 Rather than wait until after students graduate to promote the importance of philanthropy, institutions may benefit from implementing strategies that foster a culture of giving among current students.  

What motivates pharmacy students and alumni giving?

While the idea of student philanthropy is not new, there is little information regarding this concept within pharmacy education. Also known as student advancement, student philanthropy involves charitable monetary donations or contributions of time by students to their institution prior to graduation.2 In other areas of higher education, student engagement in philanthropy is a strong predictor of giving as alumni.2

Factors associated with student and alumni giving include perceptions of positive campus experiences and high-quality programming. Witnessing peers contribute time and effort to the institution may create a culture in which the value of philanthropy is recognized. In a single-institution study, pre-graduation giving as a senior gift was correlated with higher post-graduation giving among pharmacy alumni.

How can we engage students and develop a culture of philanthropy?

Researchers recommend institutions invest in programming that promotes philanthropy and a culture of community with students starting on day one.2,3   Key to engagement is ensuring students understand the “why” behind philanthropic initiatives—this support benefits future generations of students and the advancement of pharmacy education.

Given each school’s unique history and culture, the development of student philanthropy initiatives will not be a one-size-fits-all approach. However, each institution should consider the following: 

  • Linking program initiatives to a long-term strategic plan4
  • Identifying essential stakeholders4
  • Determining key metrics4 

Similar to alumni engagement efforts, the development of strong student philanthropy programs will take time, and attainable goals should be set with a focus on quality vs. quantity.4

Below are program components for colleges to consider implementing. Partnerships with offices dedicated to student development and institutional advancement can help promote these initiatives.

Educational Programming

Educational programming should focus on the importance and impact of philanthropic giving on students, making clear how donations are utilized. This programming may be implemented longitudinally, starting in the first professional year. Ideas include informational seminars and awareness events, having students write thank-you cards to donors, and implementing a senior class gift. An important goal of this education is helping students make informed decisions regarding their philanthropic involvement.

Involve Student Leaders  

Current students can serve as ambassadors to facilitate educational programming for their peers. Colleges could also form future alumni student organizations or student alumni councils. Undergraduate programs offer examples of success in engaging students in philanthropy. Kansas State University’s Students Helping Students campaign educates students on philanthropic needs and generates funds for student financial aid. In Ohio State University’s Paying It Forward Program, students participate in random acts of kindness to their peers, with a simple request to pay the gesture forward.

Partner with Alumni

Institutions can enrich student experiences by involving alumni as mentors and role models. These individuals can speak to their educational experiences and how their time at the institution positively impacted their professional journey. Impactful alumni may inspire students to “pay it forward,” ensuring the continuing success of the pharmacy program.

Challenges and Future Research

Important factors may affect the implementation of student philanthropy initiatives, most notably the large financial burden students take on to receive their education. While students should never be expected to make monetary contributions, educating on the impact of philanthropy could enhance eventual alumni giving. A study at our institution found 21% of respondents make monetary contributions or volunteer at their undergraduate institutions. A positive association was uncovered between those who currently volunteer and a strong interest in volunteering time as a pharmacy alumnus. Outside of financial contributions, students can be made aware of opportunities to contribute time and talent to the college through service, teaching, and other volunteer opportunities.

Within pharmacy education, more information is needed to determine factors that correlate with the student giving and student perceptions of philanthropy and volunteerism, and into best practices to engage and educate students on philanthropy. 

How can colleges of pharmacy begin to develop programming that promotes a culture of philanthropy and altruism among students and share successes with the Academy at large? 


  1. Chisholm-Burns MA & Spivey CA. Factors associated with student pharmacist philanthropy to the college before and after graduation. Am J Pharm Ed 2015; 79(7).
  2. Freeland RE, Spenner KI & McCalmon G. I Gave at the Campus: Exploring Student Giving and Its Link to Young Alumni Donations After Graduation. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 2015; 44(4): 755-74
  3. Paradise A. Student Philanthropy: The Foundation for Engagement as Lifelong Donors. Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).  Published 2015.  Accessed December 20, 2021.
  4. Carter JS, Nugent D & Neely R. Lasting Impressions: Laying the Foundation for Engaged and Philanthropic Future Alumni. Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Published 2016.  Accessed December 20, 2021.

Author Bios

Vindya Perera is a student pharmacist at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Her educational scholarship interests are the scholarship of teaching and learning. In her free time, she enjoys learning new things, exploring museums and galleries, and traveling.

Liz Fredrickson is an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Pharmacy. Her educational scholarship interests include the scholarship of teaching and learning, and research related to compounding education. In her free time, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and four children.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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