Howard Launches $250 Million Fund-Raising CampaignUniversity president faces challenge with “guarded optimism.”
By Robin V. Smiles
In today’s era of financial uncertainty and market volatility, embarking on a fund-raising campaign seems more than a notion. Yet, Howard University in Washington has done just that, launching its “Campaign for Howard” with a goal of raising $250 million in the next five years. The amount is greater than the combined totals of all Howard campaigns to date.
The campaign was officially launched earlier this month during Howard’s Charter Day festivities, commemorating the university’s founding 135 years ago. During its silent phase, the campaign raised $50 million, a figure that Howard President H. Patrick Swygert deems “a good place to start.” “Campaign for Howard” is a key component of Swygert’s Strategic Framework for Action II, the second phase of an ambitious planning initiative. In 1995, when he began his role as president, Swygert launched the first phase, which included plans to merge several schools, to complete the construction of law and health sciences libraries, and to improve the campus’ technology infrastructure. Six years later, much of the first phase has been completed or is close to completion.
Black Issues sat down with President Swygert earlier this month to discuss the impetus behind the new fund-raising campaign, the challenges of alumni giving and possible obstacles related to the campaign’s timing.
BI: Why $250 million?
PS: We selected 250 after our own market survey and analysis of potential donors. You’d like to think there’s more, and we’d be delighted to find that number was far too low. We think, though, that the number is reasonable. If you look around the country, a number of schools, colleges, universities — not a very large number, but a number — have either announced or indeed have completed billion-dollar campaigns. We didn’t think that a billion-dollar campaign would have the credibility, frankly, that any campaign needs. You could say, “Let’s have a billion-dollar campaign, or a $2 billion campaign,” but it has to be a number that your alumni, your support base of corporations and friends, think is reasonable, is rational. So, after lots of conversation, discussion with consultants, alumni, focus groups and others, you conclude that 250 is about right. And we’re giving ourselves five years. And that’s more than a notion, raising that kind of money in five years.
BI: Is this the first campaign since you came to the university?
PS: It’s my first campaign at Howard. It’s not the first campaign that I have been involved with. This is the third capital campaign that I have been directly involved in. When I was at Temple University, we had a $100 million campaign celebrating Temple University’s centennial. When I was president of the State University of New York at Albany, I announced in October of 1991 what was then the largest capital campaign in the history of the State University of New York System, the SUNY system. That was $55 million. When I announced $55 million in 1991, folks thought that was far too ambitious, it was way out there. Well, I gave myself a fair amount of running room and said that campaign would take us out to the rest of the balance of the decade of the ’90s. We did the campaign in about 3 and a half years. And folks thought that was absolutely incredible that we could do that. What it demonstrated was that there were folks out there prepared to help. In just 10 years or so, a $55 million campaign wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. No one would think that was a particularly ambitious goal. But context is important. Fifty-five million was a lot of money in 1991; in the SUNY system that had never had a capital campaign, that was a lot. We’re in a different place now. It’s a very different situation. Howard, I think, 250 is doable. It’s going to take a lot of work. But you want to stretch yourself. You want to have a goal that is going to require the university to move.
BI: What is the role of public opinion in this campaign? Is it still necessary to convince potential contributors of the value of Black colleges or of Howard’s particular value, especially with today’s emphasis on globalization, diversity and multiculturalism?
PS: Well, no. And the reason I say “no” is because individuals who seriously doubt the viability, or the efficacy, or the importance of HBCUs are not the individuals that one would build a campaign around, or build a campaign upon. To us, and I think to most of the people who would help us and support us, the importance of Howard is obvious. Now, having said that, I’m reminded of two proverbs:
The first proverb is “Without a vision, the people shall perish.” Well, part of this strategic framework, part of the campaign, is about a vision for the university, isn’t it?
There is another proverb that I’m always quick to remind myself of, and that is “Pride precedeth the fall.” So, the point is, you can have all the vision, all the sense of self, all the sense of self-importance, and all the sense of “We deserve your support” or “We have earned your support,” and that should be absolutely apparent to you.
I’m reminded of that second proverb about pride preceding the fall, and you have got to be humble, you’ve got to have some humility, and understand that your question may be in the back of the minds of people who are prepared to help you if you can convince them that there’s a need. And you’ve got to be prepared; you’ve got to have enough humility to understand that you may have to do that. And not feel that you’re so obvious that you don’t have to explain anything. Well, we do sometimes. What I say to folk who raise that question is that if you look at Howard University, and if you look at the larger HBCU community generally, you have to conclude … that our impact in this nation in terms of producing productive, engaged citizens and citizen leaders far, far outweighs the investment that the nation has made in these institutions. Indeed, it’s been a tremendous return on the investment.
Now, I don’t believe that this more than 100-year history — in Howard’s case 135 years — I don’t believe this is just happenstance, or just circumstance, or just the way things have happened. No, I think it has been quite purposeful. That is to say, Howard’s ability to produce leaders. So when folks say, “What is the importance of, or is there any importance that one can attach to HBCUs or Howard in a world of diversity today?” I don’t try to talk about Howard as a good place to be, as a place that nurtures young people, that gives them an opportunity. I say, “Look at the record and then ask the question.” The question is not what we’ve done, the question is how have we done so much? And the notion of not having a Howard or other HBCUs and the consequences of that are so dire in terms of institutions that have contributed so much that I shudder to think about it, what the consequences would be.
BI: Do you also face having to deal with a sense of a competition between public and private institutions?
PS: Well, this is a multitrillion-dollar economy we’re a part of, and this is a many-trillion-dollar world economy. I think we do a disservice to each other to talk about what one has as opposed to what one does not have. The question is “How can we all get more?” And there is more to be had. And you should start, as we have sought to start at Howard, with your own alumni and alumnae.
When I was in school at Howard, we talked about the billion-dollar man or woman. Now it’s the trillion-dollar man or woman, meaning the Black man or the Black woman. If our alumni at Howard and other agencies, if and when they step up to the plate, they have the power to energize and propel this campaign. So, we begin with our own alums, challenging our own alums to step up to the plate. I’ve been associated with Howard, as a student and now as president, for 41 years. And I think I know a little something about the Howard community. I think it’s a community that is prepared and is waiting for the challenge. And we’ll respond to it.
BI: Are you concerned at all about the timing of the campaign considering Sept. 11 and the market’s recent downturn?
PS: We can’t ignore Sept. 11. And some argue, as you know, that the economy was moving toward a recession or showing recession-like signs before Sept. 11, and then in certain industries we’ve seen terrific falloff since Sept. 11 — travel, hospitality industry, hotels, that sort of thing. And we’ve seen a number of major corporations suffer decline in market value, and the stock market itself has had some challenges for the last six months or so. However, if you take a little longer view, the market has not come roaring back, but it’s more back than not since Sept. 11. Depending upon today whom you listen to, we’re either out of the recession, about to come out of the recession, or we were never in a recession. The sense seems to be that, generally speaking, the economy is starting to pick up again. The aftermath of Sept. 11, probably, for these purposes, it’s more psychological than fiscal in the sense that I think the nation was shaken badly by Sept. 11. We have seen our involvement in Afghanistan, that’s part of it. So there have been a number of major, major events that have taken up a lot of emotional time and space, I think, among many people. And our alumni and supporters are not outside of that; they are not immune from that.
However, I think again, if you take the longer view, the campaign is keyed toward optimism, obviously. And I think our community of folk are more optimistic and Americans are optimistic people. African Americans have had to be optimistic. We’re probably the most optimistic folk in the society, in the sense that we have continued to struggle and to move ahead in spite of so much, so many obstacles placed in our path. As I take a longer view, I think guarded optimism, not ignoring what’s happening, but I think we can be more optimistic than not. So that’s how I feel at this point.
You mentioned timing. I don’t think there is a perfect time. I don’t think there is ever a perfect time to launch a campaign. I think some times are better than others, but I do think there are times when you must launch a campaign because you have an obligation to your institution to find additional monies to make that vision, whether it is found here at Howard in our Strategic Framework for Action II, or some other vision, a reality. So you make a time, you make a place, a space, and in part, we’re doing that today.
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