By Marybeth Gasman, Ph.D.
A few days ago, I was on the phone with a good friend, Nelson Bowman, who works as the Director of Development at Prairie View A & M University. We started talking about the economic downturn and its impact on HBCUs. Nelson is amazingly resourceful, and as such, was trying to get some “free” consulting out of me. He asked, “What are your thoughts on institutions, specifically HBCUs, that cut the budgets of institutional advancement during these difficult economic times?” This is a great question.
Although I would advise all HBCUs to cut as much fat out of their budgets as possible during this time, Institutional Advancement is the life blood of an institution and should not be cut in any substantial way. Those in this area are raising money for the rest of the institution — for scholarships, facilities, operating costs, faculty research, and other essential areas. Some HBCU administrators are cutting travel, event, and staff budgets in Institutional Advancement right now. In many ways, as my colleague Nelson Bowman reminded me, cutting in this area first is treating Institutional Advancement like an accessory rather than an essential part of the institution. An accessory is something that you can take on and off depending on your mood or the situation you are in. Slashing Institutional Advancement budgets during difficult times results in a need to rebuild when times are better. Institutional Advancement should be treated as central to the mission of an HBCU and its activities should, in fact, be bolstered during times of crisis. Times like these are the best times to be bold and increase efforts to garner monetary support for the institution.
Even if regular donors cannot give as much during tough times, HBCUs need to stay on the radar screen of these donors. Donors need to know that the institution is in need and that their support is still greatly appreciated and desired. They also need to be made aware of the ways that the institution is coping with the economic crisis and cutting spending where necessary. During tough economic times, donors want to know that their contributions are being used wisely.
Cutting back on personal visits, public relations materials, and stewardship events will end up hurting HBCUs in the long term. Investing in Institutional Advancement is an investment in the future of the institution. However, HBCUs must convince their internal constituents (faculty, staff, and students) that the work of the Institutional Advancement staff is essential to the strength of the institution as a whole.