When It Comes to HBCU Alumni and Giving, Making Them “Feel Bad” Doesn’t Work

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

In a recent article in Diverse Issues In Higher Education, Bill Cosby was reported to have chastised HBCU leaders for their failures to attract alumni contributions. Specifically, he stated, that HBCU administrators should make their alumni “feel bad” about not giving back. I have a lot of respect for Cosby’s dedication to HBCUs and I agree that HBCUs need to be more proactive in garnering alumni support. However, shaming alumni or making them “feel bad” does not work. Research shows that the best way to increase alumni giving across institutional type is to educate alumni while they are students about the importance of giving back.

Beginning during new student orientation, the presidents of HBCUs need to remind students on whose shoulders they stand. As the majority of HBCU students receive scholarships, it is easy to convince them that they are benefiting from the contributions of others and have an obligation to do the same for students of the future. The trick communicate this message early and often. HBCUs need to make sure that students understand how a college or university works, the sources of income that keep an institution working, and their role in sustaining their alma mater.

How can this be done? HBCUs need to set up student advancement councils focused on raising money and educating about philanthropy in a peer to peer way. The United Negro College Fund has been doing this for decades through their campus-based pre-alumni councils. BUT presidents and other administrators need to better communicate the “giving back” message through multiple means. And, presidents have ample opportunity to do this — at homecoming, at weekly convocations, at social and academic events, and of course, at graduation. Student should know from the moment that they step on campus that as soon as they receive their diploma, they need to give back to the institution that launched them into society.

Education and a true understanding of the worth and benefits of an HBCU education leads people to give, not shame!

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).

2 responses to “When It Comes to HBCU Alumni and Giving, Making Them “Feel Bad” Doesn’t Work

  1. Here’s an positive outlook on HBCU philanthropy from Spelman College.

    A group of Spelman College alums in the Midwest are giving back and making sure that their students are not casualties of the credit crunch.

    I agree with Dr. Gasman that HBCU Alums should give back and be encouraged to do so because of the benefits that have been afforded them. The Spelman Alums spearheading the event are doing so out of a deep since of gratitude for and pride in their Spelman Education.

    They are hosting an awards ceremony at one of the premier jewelry stores in the Detroit area. They’ve even wrangled actor Morris Chestnut to be the guest emcee.

    Proceeds benefit Spelman students from the Midwest. Quite frankly, many students can no longer secure private loans. The cost of making loans to students has gone up because lenders can’t find investors to buy the debt.


  2. It is especially important that products of HBCU’s like myself give to their institutions. Sponsoring book, tuition or endowed scholarships will certainly help future students attend these historic colleges and universities. Despite the dire economic times, we must still make room for contributing to HBCU”s because education doesn’t take a rest. It is the pursuit of knowledge and academic rigor that has been the hallmark of HBCU’s. We must get more of our students engaged in this rigor and by giving financially to our schools, we can make this happen. Many of us can link our success directly to graduating from an HBCU. As I reflect on my life my college choice of Johnson C Smith University was a defining moment for me. There, I made life long friends. Giving back to JCSU has been a no brainer for us.

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