As one of Princeton’s major strengths has been its sense of family and cohesion, the steady decline in participation rates is a very negative symbol of what may be happening with our undergraduate demographic (admissions, please note).
As a freshman way back in 1952 I recall, as a part of freshman orientation, being told that we were all benefitting from gifts from alumni who preceded us. Accordingly, we were expected to contribute to benefit the Princetonians who would follow us.
It is likely that current and recent graduates are endowed with two unhelpful traits.
First, they may have the sense of entitlement. Princeton should be blessed to have me and not expect me to contribute.
Second, there seems to be very little knowledge of the importance of philanthropy generally. For whatever reason, neither family nor any institution has educated these people about the importance and gratification of giving to a very important institution.
It is clearly too late after students graduate to start preaching Annual Giving.
My strong suggestion is that as a compulsory part of freshman orientation the University have a seminar that teaches the overall importance of philanthropy in one’s life. It should then emphasize that these students are benefitting from gifts from those who preceded them and that they should help those who will follow them.
Princeton’s large endowment didn’t fall from the sky but from alumni giving, so those who are benefiting from it should learn who it came from.
In my own case, I have given to Princeton every year since I graduated in 1956. It just seemed to be the right thing to do. It is also a pleasure to contribute to a “winning team.”