Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Katherine Chaddock


The purpose of this study was to determine the characteristics and motivations of major donors at three federal service academies and the six senior military colleges. Although much literature has been published on donor motivation, as well as studies determining what donor characteristics are linked to the decision of alumni to financially contribute back to their alma maters, research specific to the federal service academies and the senior military colleges could not be found. Therefore, this study addressed the void in the literature. The methods used to gather this data were survey instrument and personal interviews. The researcher sent letters to colleagues at the study institutions and then conducted eight personal interviews in a semi-structured environment. The interviews were selected by participants indicating on the survey their willingness to contribute, as well as via the researcher’s personal contacts. The findings were limited to a small sample, due to having 5 out of 9 institutions participate in distributing the survey; 158 surveys were ultimately returned. This small sample size is typical of mail surveys in qualitative studies. Nevertheless, the results highlighted a number of interesting indications about giving; it is anticipated that these will serve as valuable reference points in future research on this subject of military giving (especially in regard to alumni giving). These results included, perhaps predictably, some similarities between the motivations of these donors and donors at institutions with similar unique or “niche” missions. However, there were some interesting differences as well. Gender played a prominent role, as did age and the perceived value of leaving a legacy at the institution. Student experiences did not have as much of a role in motivating donor behavior; however, donors who were on an athletic team showed an increased propensity to give. The research also supported findings in previous studies, showing that involvement at the school leads to higher contributions and that donors need to have faith in administrative leadership in order to permit their gifts to be used in the best interest of the school. Finally, the research supported the supposition that leaving a legacy and enhancing the institution’s brand was of high importance to major donors. The results can assist professional advancement staff at the subject institutions to develop strategic and specific fundraising approaches with major donors on their respective campuses. The data points indicated by the study can be beneficial when working with current or future major donors at the federal service academies and senior military colleges and universities. The alumni and other major donors who participated in the survey and interviews have immense loyalty to their alma maters. The study also provides foundational research in giving at military colleges and universities, which clearly have strong similarities and differences from other niche mission schools such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and women’s colleges (as well as links to mainstream private and public universities).


© 2015, John Paul Dowd III