Black Colleges Seeking More Financial Support from Alumni

Dionne Walker, AP, April 22, 2008

Making money, administrators at Virginia State University have learned, takes money.

The majority black school has spent millions of state dollars renovating buildings, partly to heighten school pride among alumni they hope will respond by opening their own wallets.

It’s working: Alumni support has risen from 7 percent five years ago to 10 percent, and individual gifts have increased from hundreds of dollars to thousands, development vice president Robert Turner said as he showed off libraries and academic buildings recently.

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As state and private funds shrink, historically black colleges are refreshing outdated efforts to solicit former students, by adding specialized staff, crafting personalized “asks,” improving campuses and increasingly using Internet outreach.

They’re targeting a wider base—more blacks are graduating—and younger alumni who’ve moved into a broader range of careers.

At VSU, efforts as subtle as adding a donor recognition dinner have heartened alumni like Anthony Spence.

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Administrators plan computer network upgrades devoted to online giving at Atlanta’s prestigious Morehouse College, where alumni contributions dipped from about $3.1 million in 2006 to $1.3 million last year.

Wiley College in east Texas will use a nearly $840,000 grant from the United Negro College Fund to help scout 200 major gift prospects a year, create new online giving opportunities and beef up staff.

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The fundraising push by these schools foreshadows an expected slowdown in levels of state higher education funding, at the same time that predominantly white universities are pushing harder to attract high-achieving black students.

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The colleges, founded to serve blacks during segregation, have kept tuition low to help underprivileged students. That leaves little extra cash for things like fundraising, said University of Pennsylvania assistant professor Marybeth Gasman, author of “Supporting Alma Mater: Successful Strategies for Securing Funds from Black College Alumni.”

They also have historically been reluctant to ask former students, already paying off loans, to give more money. At the same time, black alumni haven’t always had the income of graduates from predominantly white schools, Gasman said.

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