An HBCU Learns the Benefits of Appreciating its Alumni

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

According to Diverse’s May 1 feature “A Fundraising Blueprint” and most recently Tuesday’s Chronicle of Higher Education daily update, Howard University raised $275 million in a five-year fundraising campaign. Howard’s success surpassed the institution’s expectations and solidified its role as a leader in Black college fundraising. Interestingly, Howard University trustees originally set the goal for $100 million, but the institution’s president, Dr. H. Patrick Swygert, pushed for a larger goal. Throughout history, Black college trustees have underestimated the potential of these institutions, and Swygert should be commended for pushing his university’s leadership to “think big” and not settle for a smaller figure. If you ask for less, you receive less!

Much of the success of Howard’s campaign was the result of increased and systematic cultivation of its alumni. When Howard began its fundraising campaign, the institution’s alumni giving rate was a mere 4 percent, which is slightly below the average for HBCUs; however, today it is boasting a 17 percent rate, which is above the national average for all colleges and universities regardless of racial make-up. During its campaign, Howard’s administration realized how important it is to keep alumni informed of the successes and accomplishments of the institution and, more importantly, the students. In the words of Swygert, “People give to students, they give to ideas, they give to memory.” Swygert’s words are vitally important. For too long, many Black colleges have not kept track of their alumni, have not asked them to give, have not kept them informed of the successes and needs of their alma mater, and have not provided proper stewardship following alumni contributions. The case of Howard University’s success with alumni offers a shining example of how much Black college alumni are willing to support their institution when asked and when appreciated.

One of the best ways to cultivate alumni support is to begin the process when alumni are students. Many institutions across the country are spending time and resources educating their students about the importance of giving back because they see an enormous return on investment when these students graduate. Colleges and universities are instilling in young people the idea that supporting one’s alma mater is an obligation — it’s something that you do because those who went before you gave and that giving contributed to your success. In order to increase alumni giving at HBCUs, it is essential that students learn about giving back the moment they walk on to campus.

Black college fundraisers should study Howard University’s accomplishment, especially in terms of the institution’s success with alumni giving. There are many examples of success in the area of Black college fundraising, including (but not limited to) Claflin University, Spelman College, Tuskegee University and Prairie View A&M University — building on and learning from these successes is essential as Black colleges move forward in the 21st Century.

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

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One response to “An HBCU Learns the Benefits of Appreciating its Alumni

  1. Thanks so much for bringing to the nation’s attention the wonderful work our HBCU’s are doing to educate the students they serve. They are working very hard to respond to the issues of transparency, assessment and student learning outcomes that have been raised in recent years.

    I must take exception, however, to the fact that their improvement is directly tied to my having been selected as President of the SACS Commission on College’s. To suggest that now that the Commission has an African American president, the HBCU’s will improve is not only insulting to me but to the institutions themselves, as well as all of the peer reviewers and staff who have come before me.

    I and the rest of the staff have worked hard with ALL of our institutions to ensure they come into compliance with the accreditation standards voted upon and agreed to by ALL of our members because ALL OF THE STUDENTS who enroll in our institutions need to have confidence in the quality of the education they receive.

    My hat goes off to ALL of our institutions who are working very hard to translate the SACS acronym into a very real focus on the fact that STUDENTS ARE CENTRAL TO SUCCESS.

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