There are a handful of historically black colleges and universities that have a healthy alumni giving rate, and when I use the term healthy, its relative to the campuses that have virtually no alumni buy-in. Some stats suggest HBCU campuses hover around 5-10 percent of tracked alumni giving back, and with most campuses having somewhere between 15-30,000 known alums, that major vein of private giving is annually on the pockets of about 3,000 people per school.
Mostly, HBCU alums are at fault. We give to our respective religions, we give to commerce, but don’t give higher education that sense of salvation or status that we give to the former two industries. HBCUs themselves have a problem with asking people, but largely, there are five reasons why HBCU alums don’t give back to their alma maters.
5. HBCUs don’t ask often enough – Resources are a major issue at HBCUs, so they can’t afford to send mailers and magazines out every month that keep alums engaged. They have to strategically use phone bank solicitations, because, again, it’s a money thing.
4. HBCU alums think they don’t make enough money – The majority of HBCU alums are not rich, with rich indicating an individual net income of more than $100k year. People commonly associate ‘giving back’ with huge checks. And for those working and middle-class HBCU grads who correctly align giving back with any level of giving, lean economic times makes their willingness to mail in 50-100 dollars annually that much lower.
3. Willing HBCU donors don’t have the money – The biggest pool of willing donors to HBCUs are retirees – the students who attended HBCUs in the golden era of black college culture. They see the value from a past and future perspective, but with so many now living on fixed income, their pennies aren’t able to match their passion.
2. HBCUs are asking for money for the wrong things - The HBCU giving ask is largely vague, and is generally focused on the solicitation for scholarship support from 20 years ago. Yes; there are thousands of black students who need financial support to attend HBCUs. But if HBCUs don’t begin asking for money to support capital projects, student activities and sports, these same broke students will be looking for scholarship support to attend predominantly white colleges that focus intensely on the student experience.
1. HBCU sports are horrible - Generally, HBCU sports programs are awful. People come to games to hear the bands not because the bands are universally spectacular, but because they have more entertainment value than the players, coaching and officiating on the field. Without solid sports, there is no HBCU mechanism to build civic pride - the primary factor in finding private and corporate support for institutions. The more that HBCUs treat sports as something to do and not as the key marketing vehicle for their institutions, the less likely they are to make the case to alums to get excited enough to finance the school.