Professional Institute Emphasizes Fundraising Basics for Public HBCUs

MIAMI — Universities that launch successful fundraising campaigns do more than just pick a financial goal; they mobilize their alumni and supporters in a crusade for their institutions, a University of Miami executive said Monday at a conference for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s member universities.

An effective fundraising campaign is “about more than that big number” because board members, administrators, faculty and staff first must reach broad consensus on the university’s overall direction and how additional funds would be spent, said Sergio Gonzalez, senior vice president for university advancement and external affairs at the University of Miami.

A fund-raising campaign ideally “becomes a rallying point” that elevates a university’s overall performance in accord with the campaign’s visionary written purpose, or “case statement,” Gonzalez said.

“Almost every campaign has a case statement,” he said, noting that the paperwork doesn’t stop there. In addition, he said, almost every sophisticated donor now requires a gift agreement in writing: “We spend a lot of time with the general counsel on gift agreements.”

Gonzalez was one of the public speakers Monday at the annual Member-Universities Professional Institute (MUPI) for the 47-member universities of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. The event, which began Sunday and ends Wednesday, is being held at the Hilton Miami Downtown. The 13th annual MUPI attracted about 190 registered attendees, including students as well as vice presidents and presidents of member universities.

“The conference is geared toward presidents, financial aid individuals and also persons who are CFOs,” or chief financial officers, who wish to become “more creative as far as saving money in our institutions and at the same time providing service to students,” said Albert Walker, president of Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, Missouri.  “That also translates to helping faculty and staff to add stability.”

Joyce Payne, founder of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said the audience response was “very enthusiastic” during a discussion of financial literacy and empowerment, the topic of one of four concurrent sessions Monday at the MUPI event.

“Many of our universities are currently involved in financial literacy on their campuses,” Payne said in an interview, “but not in a way that impacts the entire community,” despite obvious need. “If you see some of our campuses, you know, in many cases, they’re located in economically depressed communities.”

Dr. David Wilson, president of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md., said he learned more in another session about “how to make our financial aid offices more efficient and to make sure they serve the needs of our students uncommonly well.” JaiSun W. McCormick, manager of student services at Howard University, presented the concurrent session on optimizing the performance of financial aid offices.

“We also heard some innovative strategies to grow our institutions, especially in light of fairly challenging economic conditions,” Wilson said in an interview.  “This is a very good conference to really begin to dig deeper into some of these issues facing historically black colleges.”

How to raise funds from private donors was the subject of the concurrent session featuring Gonzalez, who also oversees communications and governmental relations in his position at the University of Miami. UM recently launched a $1.6 billion fund raising campaign.

He said the individuals with the greatest capacity and propensity to donate to a university are relatively easy to identify: “Your best prospect is your existing donor.”

Here are a few other tips from Gonzalez on the art of fund raising:

  • Use the “1-10 rule” Ask for a donation in no more than one out of every 10 meetings with a prospective donor.
  • When asking a wealthy donor for a large contribution, do so over dinner, and rehearse the request beforehand.
  • If a prospective donor winces at the amount of a suggested donation, it’s “a stretch gift … That means you’re going to have to work it,” Gonzalez said.  

Author and public speaker George Fraser gave a rousing speech during the Monday breakfast session on the importance of “making a difference and adding value” in pursuit of professional success.

“God did not put us here to make money, he put us here to make a difference and add value,” Fraser said. “And when you make a difference and add value, you will not be able to get out of the way of money.”

He said African-Americans rank below other racial groups in business and property ownership even though thousands of elected officials in the United States are African-Americans, so “you cannot do it by politics alone. The only color that matters, in case no one has told you, is green. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying that’s what it is.”

Without more wealth building among African-Americans, Fraser said, “We will never be considered an equal at the table of democratic capitalism.”