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Spelman mission was not impossible: how college’s fund-raising drive netted $113 million

Atlanta – When the totals were in, Spelman College had not only met its “mission impossible” goal of raising $81 million, it had outdone itself — amassing a record $113.3 million.


“Today marks the end of the most successful capital campaign of any historically Black college and the beginning of a new era of African-American philanthropy,” beamed Spelman College President Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole. But all the counting is not done yet.


Elated Spelman officials say that it will be difficult to calculate the collateral benefits of the college’s “Initiatives for the 90s” in terms of lessons learned, bridges crossed, and visions inspired. College Fund/UNCF President Bill Gray, on hand for the campaign’s spirited wrap-up, agreed.


“There is a new reality that you have shared with the rest of the academic community — and that is: You can do it if you work awfully hard,” said Gray. “And you can do it working with corporate America, with people of goodwill and foundations. And you can do it by stimulating philanthropy within [the African-American] community. That is going to be more and more important in the days to come.”


Indeed, Spelman officials say the campaign’s success at tapping the African-American community, especially Spelman alumnae and students, was perhaps the campaign’s crowning achievement. African-Americans contributed more than $25 million. The $113.3 million is the most money raised by a historically Black college and for any liberal arts college with fewer than 8,000 students. It also helped push Spelman’s endowment to more than $138 million — second only to Howard University. “The money was important,” admitted Billie Sue Schulze, Spelman’s vice president for institutional advancement, “but it wasn’t the driving force of the campaign. This campaign was really about positioning Spelman for the future.”


When Cole was installed as Spelman’s president in 1989, she set a goal for the college to become one of the best small liberal arts colleges in the country. Spelman would be bench-marked, she said, against colleges such as Wellesley, Oberlin, Williams and Amherst.


In terms of faculty and students, Spelman compared well. But Spelman lagged significantly in areas that depended on financial resources. Thus came the idea of launching the $81 million campaign. The most that had been raised by a previous Spelman campaign had been $11.4 million, a decade earlier.


“I will tell you, we really weren’t quite sure how long it would take or how we would do it,” said Cole of the $81 million goal. “But this we did know: If Spelman was to take her rightful place among the best of the small liberal arts colleges in our country, then we would have to extend our reach all over this great nation of ours.”


Ambition is one thing. But the college launched the campaign having some glaring deficiencies. Like many HBCUs, it lacked a strong professional development staff. it also had no consistent annual giving program, no ongoing stewardship program, no planned giving or major gifts program, and an out-of-date computer system.


Moreover, Spelman’s comparatively small alumnae base (of about 8,000) had no history of giving major gifts — the average alumna gift being about $300, with a $30,000 estate gift being the largest it had ever received. The college also had no established communication strategy to encourage alumnae giving.p College officials say the most difficult challenge was the lack of major gift prospects. Pre-campaign efforts had yielded more than $50 million from two donors, but the remaining $31 million could not be identified.


For ideas, Spelman researched how other schools, including Wellesley, raised funds. What quickly became apparent, Schulze said, was that creating a traditional gift chart to identify donors based on past giving would not be a practical approach for Spelman.


“We found we didn’t have a prospect base that we had enough knowledge about to put into categories,” said Schulze. Against considerable odds, and with some supporters expressing doubt, Spelman began putting together a systematic, yet nontraditional, campaign.


The three-year campaign was organized on three initiatives: an endowment initiative; a science initiative to raise support for a new $22 million science complex; and a constituency initiative to involve all of the college’s constituents.


Schulze said, “We felt like one of the first things we had to do was learn about our constituents. And one of the most important lessons of the campaign — and one I am most proud of — is that the administration and the trustees of Spelman invested in the resources we needed to allow us to reach out to the college’s constituent groups.”


As part of developing a professional fund-raising operation, Spelman boosted its Office of Institutional Advancement. It reorganized and redeployed staffers to increase the number of full-time fundraisers from two to seven. It increased the budget for institutional advancement from $1.1 to $1.3 million.p Rather than taking the more traditional approach of putting prospective donors into categories, Schulze said, the college developed individualized campaigns for the various constituent groups — trustees, alumnae, corporations, individuals, federal government, students, faculty/staff, and parents. Each constituent group had a financial goal and a distinct strategy. Each also had important educational and communicational objectives designed to identify donors and to develop a donor base and fund-raising infrastructure that would continue to serve the college for years to come.


Celebrity donors giving major gifts — including $20 million by Bill and Camille Cosby, and $1 million from Oprah Winfrey — promoted the campaign and heightened its profile. But no element was more critical to its success than the campaign’s ability to rally extraordinary participation from Spelman alumnae and students. And no element of the campaign was more invigorating and more important to the campaign’s greater objective of building long-term support for the college.


Said Schulze: “The students and the alumnae donors set a whole new pace for philanthropy — and empowered themselves in the process.” Previously, Spelman alumnae did not have a history of giving at a sustained, high level that could be called encouraging. Nor had alumnae gifts ever been very seriously courted. Part of that was Spelman’s fault. Schulze admitted, “This was the first time we had looked at our alumnae as potential major donors.” “Spelman on the Road” shows were held in ten major cities to reach alumnae about the campaign. The road shows were instrumental in gathering alumnae feedback about their relationship with Spelman and how it might be improved.


“Inside Spelman,” a new publication targeting alumnae, covered the campaign extensively. Workshops on planned giving provided information on the particulars of being a major donor. More than thirty alumnae were recruited as volunteers to solicit other alumnae. In actuality, the campaign was as much about building long-term partnerships with alumnae as it was about generating a one-time contribution.


The results: Spelman alumnae more than tripled their campaign goal, raising more than $3.2 million — with seventy-seven alumnae contributing gifts of $10,000 or more. Several made six-figure commitments. Spelman graduate Yvonne Jackson (Class of ’70), who had contributed $10,000 annually to Spelman for at least ten years, contributed $100,000 to “Initiatives for the 90s.” According to Jackson, Spelman has a credible story to tell and the thought of leaving a legacy at Spelman was appealing. Also, a close family member was diagnosed with breast cancer during the time Jackson was considering her donation. That, she said, underscored the importance of supporting Spelman, where nearly 40 percent of students major in the sciences.


The campaign was important, Jackson said, for the lessons it carried for Spelman and other HBCUs about the need to master the culture and proprieties of philanthropy and fundraising — keys to tapping alumnae contributions. “I wasn’t surprised [at alumnae support],” Jackson said, “because I think that, if asked properly and certainly if asked by the right persons, people will give. I think that often times Spelman didn’t know how to ask. Nor did they know how to treat large donors.” Campaign workers made more than 300 personal appeals to prospective donors, with President Cole making more than 130 solicitations herself.


Recalling how she was courted by President Cole to be a major donor, Jackson said, “When Johnnetta sat me down for breakfast at her home, I think she was stunned when I said, `I think I can probably do that.'”


Using the campaign to establish stronger relations with its alumnae portends great fundraising success in the future, Spelman officials said. But they also have learned more about fundraising and philanthropy among women, as exemplified by the Spelman student campaign — which surpassed its $75,000 goal, raising more than $78,000. The student campaign was proposed and carried out by a Spelman student Johnita Mizelle, a science major and ’96 graduate. Said Mizelle, “It was the feeling of empowering other sisters to give of themselves for future Spelman sisters that was most important to me.”


To woo corporate donations, the campaign created the Spelman Corporate Partners Program to build long-term partnerships with major corporations. More than seventy partnerships have been developed, of which fifty-seven contributed $12.4 million to the campaign. The corporate partners also offer scholarships, internships, and professional employment opportunities for Spelman students.


Schulze said the strategy of forming partnerships creates a win-win situation. Visits by corporate executives to the Spelman campus and their interactions with the college staff, faculty and students proved eye-opening for many corporate partners. Until its partnership with Spelman, the California-based biotech company Amgen, a corporate partner since 1993, had never hired an undergraduate student as an intern, Schulze said. Since the partnership, several Spelman students interned there and Amgen established the Center for Molecular Biology at Spelman with a gift of $1.5 million.


“This gift is not just a donation of money. It is a true commitment to the long term,” said Harold Davis, Amgen director of toxicology. Schulze said Spelman’s emphasis on creating partnerships perhaps drives home another important point: the advisability of a college to raise funds by pitching its strengths and selling benefits rather than appeal for donations of the basis of need.


Said Schulze: “People give big money to quality, and small money to need.” “Our success,” said President Cole, “has raised the bar for Spelman’s future fund raising efforts, as well as those of other historically Black colleges and universities.”


COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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