THINKING OUTSIDE THE FUNDRAISING BOX - Higher Education

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THINKING OUTSIDE THE FUNDRAISING BOX

by LYDIA LUM

After Dr. Larry Earvin became Huston-Tillotson University president, he crafted an annual black-tie gala to raise scholarship funds. Despite the country’s economic doldrums, Earvin’s event this year netted proceeds pushing the cumulative total since 2004 to more than $1 million.

When Beverly Hogan became Tougaloo College president, she urged alumni to make charitable donations supporting the school. One of Hogan’s recent initiatives has Tougaloo automatically collecting $20-a-month minimum contributions from each graduate signing up for bank-account drafts.

Hogan and Earvin are among leaders of private historically Black colleges and universities whose fundraising skills have helped their institutions survive and thrive in their niches.

Regardless of their constituencies, the overwhelming majority of U. S. private schools are tuition-dependent.

“It’s always hard for small, minorityserving institutions to educate low-income students,” says Dr. Michael Lomax, United Negro College Fund president.

More than 50 percent of students at UNCF schools like HT and Tougaloo have families whose annual income is $25,000 or less, Lomax says.

Many of these schools are lesser known among the general public than the wealthier Morehouse and Spelman colleges, which boast endowments that are at least four times more. But fi nancially modest schools play as big a role in producing Black professionals. More than 40 percent of Black doctors and lawyers in Mississippi, for instance, are Tougaloo graduates.

School presidents interviewed for this story say increased alumni fi nancial support has been key to their success.

Before Hogan assumed Tougaloo’s presidency in 2002, only 13 percent of 9,000 graduates had ever made a gift. She has made a habit of attending annual fundraisers of the 25 alumni chapters in order to praise but also to inform them of college news and accomplishments so they don’t feel that only their checkbooks are valued. Alumni giving has tripled to 39 percent, totaling some $1 million a year.

In Tougaloo’s bank-draft program, the average monthly donation runs $125; one participant gives more than $800.

“It doesn’t matter if you were here in 1950 or 2009, you probably have a little to spare,” Hogan says.

Lomax says the most fi nancially savvy UNCF schools are led by presidents who avoid high-loss ventures.

Dr. Luns Richardson, president of Morris College in South Carolina, acknowledges that his nickname of “Scrooge” is deserved but illustrates the importance of fi scal prudence. For instance, students and faculty were delighted when Morris gained ownership of a local AM radio station as a gift in the early 1990s. But with station operations resulting in losses of $30,000 a month, Richardson decided to sell it.

“Here, we put education fi rst. If anything has to go, education is last to go,” he says. Richardson, who inherited $500,000 in outstanding bills when becoming president in 1974, eliminated the defi cit in three years and has ensured that bills don’t become delinquent. Alumni attorney Thomas Levy was so impressed by Richardson’s leadership that he and his wife Jean who is also a Morris alum gave the school $14,000.

“We’ve always felt compelled to give back to Morris, but Dr. Richardson through his integrity, humble leadership traits and the visible improvements to all aspect of the college has given us a strong sense of confi dence about the future of the institution,” Levy says.

The emphasis on academics and student needs can help schools raise funds in trying economic times. At Benedict College, offi cials considered canceling the annual gala this past spring. But after much deliberation, they forged ahead. Turnout more than doubled that of its 2007 counterpart. The $157,000 in scholarship proceeds almost doubled those of 2007.

“It was best for us to stay the course,” says Love Collins, executive vice president for institutional advancement. “We would only hurt ourselves otherwise.”

Since becoming Benedict president in 1994, Dr. David Swinton has earned alumni and community confi dence. He initiated federally fi nanced redevelopment projects in the surrounding neighborhood to replace drug dens with new and renovated single-family homes. On campus, he long ago insisted that broken window screens be removed and that the grounds be mowed regularly.

“Once folks saw we were serious about improving appearances, it was easier for them to believe we would advance academics too,” he says

Swinton and his counterparts also step onto a higher-profi le stage from time to time. At Huston-Tillotson, Earvin hosts his President’s MASKED Ball. MASKED is short for Mankind Assisting Students Kindle Educational Dreams. The event features dinner, entertainment, student testimonials and an auction. All proceeds from the auction fi nance scholarships.

This year, basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson was a celebrity guest. He astounded the audience and HT offi cials by unexpectedly auctioning some courtside Los Angeles Lakers tickets that fetched winning bids of $7,000, $8,000 and $10,000. The crowd was still reeling in excitement from Johnson’s gesture when he chipped in a $25,000 matching donation himself.

Earvin, who assumed the Huston-Tillotson presidency in 2000, attributes the ball’s growth and success to the fact “we’re emphasizing education.”

“As long as we convey that to alumni and other funders, I think we’ll continue to engage them.”

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