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The Power of Student Giving and Black College Fundraising Success


This post is co-authored by Nelson Bowman III, the Director of Development at Prairie View A&M University.

Many elite universities, such as Penn, Chicago, and Princeton, have very successful student philanthropy programs. They spend ample time and effort educating students about philanthropic giving as well as the fundraising operation within colleges and universities. Why? Because students who are educated about philanthropy are more likely to give back to the institution sooner, on a regular basis and, as our research shows, are much more willing to serve in alumni leadership roles. 

Claflin University, a historically Black institution in South Carolina, has joined the ranks of the colleges and universities mentioned above. Not only does the institution have an alumni giving percentage over 40 percent (which mirrors that of much wealthier institutions), but also, through its student giving campaign, it has raised $100,000. This is an amazing contribution on the part of the students, and one that other HBCUs should model. Seemingly, Claflin has long-term intentions of increasing its alumni giving rate and what better way to prepare for that goal than to engage students in the process before they leave campus. 

In order to make a contribution to Claflin University’s $96.4 million capital campaign, the students were encouraged to raise money through their fraternities, sororities, and the institution’s United Negro College Fund-sponsored Pre-Alumni Council. The institution has created a “culture of philanthropy” that permeates both the student and alumni culture. Students are grateful for their education and want to ensure that those who come after them receive the same educational benefits. 

In Claflin’s case, the $100,000 is significant, but what is most important are the habits that these students now have in terms of giving. Whenever we give presentations on fundraising at HBCUs, we ask, “When do you talk to students about giving back?” Typically the answer is “at graduation.” Unfortunately, that is too late.

Students need to learn about giving back during orientation and convocation and at all campus events. One of the best ways to convey the importance of philanthropy is by having young alumni participate in orientation and year-long campus activities. These young people can share their recent success and the role their alma mater played in it. They can also talk about why they give back to the institution.

Conversations about HBCUs often entail concerns about fundraising and what can be done to increase alumni giving and overall fundraising success. However, in this case, all one needs to do is look at Claflin University and notice that, with much fewer resources, they are competing with the nation’s elite institutions in terms of alumni and student giving.

Question: Is your institution experiencing similar levels of success? If not, you might consider studying Claflin’s methods, consulting their fundraisers and employing their strategies!

A professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Marybeth Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

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