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Following the leader: other institutions search for the secrets of Spelman’s success – fundraising

Atlanta — The spectacular success of Spelman College’s fundraising efforts has caused many in the higher education world — particularly at the historically Black colleges and universities — to take notice. As a result, some institutions have reevaluated their own efforts to raise money.


“There have been a number of institutions to contact us,” said Billie Sue Schulze, vice president for institutional advancement at Spelman. “Some have called with a specific question or two, and some are actually coming to the campus to meet with us.” Some of the more frequent questions asked of Spelman include:


How did Spelman identify prospective major donors?:


What size development staff did it take to meet its goal? (Said Schulze: “People are really interested in that one.”); and


How was Spelman able to inspire such an outpouring of alumni support? Syvius Moore, vice president for institutional advancement at the Morehouse School of Medicine, agreed it was hard to ignore Spelman’s campaign and its significance.


“It was an affirmation for historically Black institutions,” said Moore. “It says there is a place for Lis in the academic environment. And the greater public has acknowledged that in ways that count with their dollars. To raise $114 million, you don’t do that with $50 checks.”


In approaching prospective major donors, “obviously they didn’t do it in a bashful manner,” Moore said. “Historically, maybe our institutions have not been as aggressive as we should have been. Spelman’s was a boldness backed with integrity of purpose. And it was responded to.”


Suzanne Mink, a member of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, agreed that an important lesson for other institutions is, “Don’t be afraid to be aggressive — leaving no stone unturned. The lesson here is to ask, to ask vigorously, and to ask for the highest possible donation.”


Besides the strength of its alumni giving, Spelman’s development of corporate partnerships was particularly impressive. By proposing an arrangement that was mutually beneficial, Spelman was able to approach corporations from a position of strength, Mink said.


Among those who visited Spelman to talk personally with the fund-raisers were six members of the Livingstone College development staff. The Livingstone group was particularly interested in taking notes on how Spelman organized its fund-raising teams. “I think that their methods for developing strategies on how to reach alumni and corporate groups, and how to plan for making those development calls [would be of interest to other HBCUs],” said Catrelia Hunter, dean of institutional advancement at Livingstone. “One of the things we will change at Livingstone is the way we cultivate and approach our alumni,” said Hunter.


“Every success is an example for others,” said Dr. Funso E. Oluyitan, a spokesman for Bennett College, the only other historically Black all-women’s college. Bennett has begun its capital campaign to raise $50 million to fund scholarships, endowed professorships and a host of other improvements. Oluyitan said that people at Bennett recognize that Spelman has done well and are asking, “What can we borrow from them?” Oluyitan added, “Nobody has to reinvent the wheel.”


Howard University has also kept a close eye on Spelman’s success. “What Spelman has done is admirable at a time when giving is really tough,” said Dr. Harold Jackson, vice president for university advancement at Howard University. “All of us are standing tall. It is significant in the sense that, in terms of getting our alumni to give, it shows there is a wellspring untapped by many of our historically Black colleges.”p Jackson added, however, that while other HBCUs have reason to be encouraged, every institution is unique in the size, demographics, and earning power of its alumni. “The potential is there for all of us to reap the benefits of alumni giving,” he said. “What each of us has to figure out is the best way to turn that process on.”


Howard, though the largest of the historically Black colleges, has had a history of low alumni giving — so much so that comedian Bill Cosby recently chided students in advance for not giving to their alma mater at a speech given to Howard’s student leadership. Critics of Howard have said the university has done little to cultivate alumni donors.


Howard spokesman Alan Hermesch says that the team in place, led by new president Dr. Patrick Swygert, is changing that. Hermesch said that at the national conference of the National Association of Black journalists, Swygert held a reception for Howard alumni where he passed the hat asking for “dollar hills and business cards.” Not only did he get those but some “substantial checks,” said Hermesch.


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