When It Comes to HBCU Philanthropy, We Cannot Reap Where We Have Not Sown

Dr. Alderman Faison  headshotI must say from the outset that I maintain a profound and genuine respect for the visionary leadership of Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, as one of the nation’s leading and preeminent voices in the persistent plight of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Indeed, as a younger member of the “hip-hop generation” who also heeded the call to serve the HBCU community as an executive administrator, I was actually in part personally inspired by Dr. Kimbrough’s leadership having known him personally as a student during my matriculation as an undergraduate at Albany State University where he served as a vice president a decade ago.

However, after reading Dr. Kimbrough’s May 22, 2013 Los Angeles Times article titled, “Why USC and not a black college, Dr. Dre?” concerning his angst and disappointment regarding hip-hop super producer Dr. Dre’s recent $35 million dollar gift to the University of Southern California, I pensively ruminated whether Dr. Kimbrough or other HBCU leaders were sincerely ready to hear and fully appreciate the rather inconvenient truth that belies the unfortunate answer to his retort with respect to HBCUs often not being the beneficiaries of multi-million dollar gifts.

Unfortunately, as a higher education advancement/development professional and state legislative liaison/lobbyist for a state sponsored HBCU, it sadly is of little surprise nor is it much of a perplexing reality that these kinds of gifts and investments continuously escape the needful grips of a great majority of our institutions. To put it bluntly, and at the risk of taking too much of a literary liberty with a sacred Biblical principle, “Dr. Kimbrough, HBCUs cannot reap where HBCUs have not sown.”

An increasingly volatile economic and political climate has created a formidable and frightening reality for the future of state and federal funding of higher education (especially at HBCUs). Now more than ever, HBCU leaders must be bold and audacious in making their institution’s philanthropic function as the institution’s highest budgetary priority.

As an HBCU advancement executive, it’s often unsettlingly ironic to me that a great majority of our institutions often cite their lack of financial resources as the primary impediment towards reaching the desired level of institutional and programmatic success. And yet, when glancing across the HBCU landscape to examine the advancement/development units whose primary function it is to seek, solicit, cultivate and secure resources for our institutions, in many cases we find that these units are often the LEAST professionally staffed, LEAST resourced, and LEAST developed comparative to other institutional units. And yet they are looked upon to be the deliverers for our institution’s GREATEST need!

How can HBCUs justifiably expect multi-million dollar beneficence, when many of our institutions financially invest only a fraction of what is necessary and needed in the way of sufficient advancement/development staffing, fundraising expertise and training, and professional fundraising development?

Earlier this past spring during a session for HBCU fundraising professionals at the regional meeting of CASE (Council on the Advancement and Support of Education) in Atlanta, Ga., an informal survey taken amongst the HBCU representatives revealed that a number of institutions were currently operating with advancement/development units that were severely understaffed and under resourced. Some institutions were operating with scarcely a total of 2-3 dedicated fundraisers. Show me an institution of higher education (whether HBCU, MSI or PWI) that routinely closes multi-million dollar gifts and I’ll show you an institution whose leadership has made its advancement/development function THE priority through an intentional investment of institutional dollars representative of such a commitment.

If HBCUs are to ever realize the kinds of gifts and investments that they need and so richly deserve, the paradigm of HBCU leadership must evolve into a more robust appreciation and understanding of the methodical science and practice of fundraising. The days of development/advancement units being the dumping ground for faculty or staff who have long since needed to have been retired should be over. And it’s indeed exceedingly past time for these units’ primary yearlong roles to encompass more than being saddled with the planning and facilitating of mundane non-fundraising focused “feel good” institutional activities, as is so often the case at many HBCUs.

Any seasoned and learned fundraiser well knows that $35 million dollar gifts don’t come to fruition over night and they aren’t realized through the hiring of some singular, “Ms./Mr. Magic Fundraising” guru who mysteriously and magically waives a wand and closes million dollar gifts. These kinds of gifted investments are strategically solicited and stewarded by professional advancement/development “fundraising teams” each with a strategic function and role after sometimes years of relationship building predicated upon sustainability, stability and trust. Donors typically don’t just wake up and decide, “Hey, I think I’m going to give away $35 million dollars today.” Quite to the contrary, high leveled investment gifts of this sort are painstakingly cultivated through best fundraising practices which reflect the implementation of time tested processes which include the right person asking the right prospect for the right gift for the right program at the right time in the right way.  Indeed, there IS a tried and true method to the fundraising madness.

HBCUs must begin to proactively invest to a much greater measure in their own institutional philanthropic infrastructures. Otherwise, while some of us may experience fleeting tokens of large scale fundraising success, as a collective HBCUs will continue to find themselves as panhandling members of the philanthropic community left waving a jangling near empty cup begging for more loose change.

In 2013, all donors, even and including renowned millionaire hip-hop music producers have become increasingly selective and discriminating with regard to how and where they make such sizeable financial investments. HBCU leaders should invariably conduct institutional analysis and self examinations with regard to their own institutional capacity for soliciting and stewarding such investments. Does your institution or affiliated 501(c)(3) foundation/organization have the professional staff with the requisite expertise and experience to effectively manage such an investment? What about certain legal and tax implications? How about specific opportunities for tax benefits and sheltering that are concerns for donors at this level? Is your institution’s philanthropic infrastructure (foundation and institutional actuarial audits) sound? Are the advancement/development staff professionals in your organization trained and knowledgeable enough in these areas to ably engender the trust required to secure a gift from a potential multi-million dollar donor?

Maybe? Maybe not? We’d better be ready.

There is credence for the argument that Dr. Dre and other artists, athletes and entertainers should look favorably upon reinvesting in the very communities that represent the economic engine under girding their own individual and personal pecuniary success (including untold scores of HBCU student and alumni consumers). But HBCU leaders must simultaneously accept a share of responsibility for a prevailing impotence towards engendering and perpetuating an institutional culture that is not conducive for realizing critical large scale philanthropic success.

While the urgency of our needs are beyond prodigious, and while our institutions remain highly relevant examples of rich educational reservoirs in which others should assuredly invest, we must first make an intentional decision to redirect, reallocate and reinvest in the philanthropic exploits of our own institutions. Any inaction or action to the contrary will continue to leave us asking why others always seem to be thriving beneficiaries, much to our continued philanthropic detriment.

Dr. A. Zachary Faison Jr., serves as Chief of Staff & Interim Vice President for University Advancement at Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) in Itta Bena Miss.

  • Joan Oraluk

    Something we have to also acknowledge is that HBCUs, other black institutions, and black people in general are not supposed to succeed in this country. So, it’s amazing that they do! And when they do, outside forces like state govts., accreditation agencies, or media give these organizations and persons extraordinary scrutiny and put them on a path for destruction. State schools like Albany State don’t think much about endowments because they get most of their funding from the state whereas private schools like Morehouse depend more heavily on donations. I think the things the author suggested would be more applicable to private institutions because they are more sensitive to a loss in donation revenue versus a state school. Furthermore, state schools would draw more scrutiny by racists in their state govts if they tried to do more aggressive fundraising because they don’t want us thinking like this and doing things like this. In Texas, for example, UT-Austin can have a $4Billion endowment (funded by gasoline taxes,) but Texas Southern can’t.

  • Joan Oraluk

    I think we’re putting the cart b4 the horse, here. Graduates have to make enough $ to make contributions consistently & HBCUs need to do a better job of staying touch w/ Alumni, their parents, & other supporters so they can establish a habit of giving. Give incentives. Then, cultivate wealthy donors, foundations, govts & corporations. The situation with Dre & many other black celebs is that there’s nobody black in their ear. No black mentors or advisors. Nobody black they’re willing to trust with financial & political affairs. That b/c of their own slave mentality; naivete about how white folks work; their getting burned by some unscrupulous blacks; & their white handlers denying access to their meal tickets. Dre is a bro from the ghetto who’s never been to college. Never had a father to guide. He’s a talented dude from the street. With that bloodsucker Jimmy Iovine in his ear, Dre did what he did probably for tax & publicity purposes. It wasn’t a slight against black schools & we shouldn’t see it that way. Remember this is a guy that didn’t have the presence of mind to send his son to a 4 yr school to study business to take over the family biz & I think that lack of guidance led to boy using drugs & ultimately dying at 20. There should be no hand-wringing here. Just do ur part by making a donation to your favorite HBCU & recommend to a child if u don’t have one of ur own to send.

  • Belmont

    Please understand that my comments did not suggest the op-ed, as one commenter put it, was not well written nor did I suggest that it did not make good points. But I cannot accept that the comments in the op-ed did not have implications for, or didn’t cast aspersions on, HBCU’s in general. In fact, many of the comments here do just that, which indicates a serious underestimation of some of the important points that should factor into your analyses. Beyond that, and given the difficulty of engaging in a full discussion in this limited format, I stand by my points, for the most part. If you attended an institution that you feel was derelict in its fundraising work, then qualify your response to be specific.

    For those who feel ALL HBCU’s fail to pursue their development and advancement goals with sufficient vigor, please examine the record. Hampton, Spelman, and good number of others have upped there game to meet the shortfall in other resource streams. Lastly, you should note that the problems HBCU’s have when pursuing the big bucks are often repeated WITHIN PWI’s. Black identified academic departments and other units within these institutions who compete for those larger donations from Black donors often find they are still left out. i.e., there are Black Studies and other similar programs in the institution Dre graced with his gift. Do you think any of the $35 large will get to those units. As I said in my original post, the problem goes deeper than a simplistic notion of not sowing a particular field. Rarely do any of our issues have simple one shot answers.

    • http://about.me/travismartin Travis L. Martin ’05

      I am an Alumnus of Mississippi Valley State University. I certainly can agree with your assertions regarding some of our prominent Historically Black Colleges. As you’ve stated, HBCUs such as Spelman, Hampton, Howard, Morehouse, etc does an OKAY job when it comes to development. However, the truth of the matter is that HBCUs in general and I would argue that the great majority of them, are lacking in the area of fundraising, alumni engagement (beyond attending homecomings), and public relations. However, this is not solely the fault of HBCU leadership. As you’ve stated, this problem is also reinforced by our PWI counterparts in the area of funding for Black academic and programmatic departments. However, in a time of shrinking government funding for higher education, HBCUs have to shift their priority of legislative power, to empowering their alumni, PR, and development initiatives. That’s a fact and can be certainly supported by simply looking at the percentage of alumni engagement for the great majority of HBCUs.

  • http://about.me.com/travismartin Travis L. Martin ’05

    Jeron21, great response to Belmont1929′s comment. I couldn’t have said it any better. This is a well written perspective from Dr. Faison.

  • Jeron21

    Excellent, excellent commentary!! Very insightful and truthful discussion. To the writer below (Belmont) this was obviously an op-ed piece specific to a particular issue. Dr. Kimbrough calling out Dre for not giving to an HBCU. It wasn’t (nor does/would space allow for) it to be a holistic complete presentation of black giving and all of its attendant dynamics. So to me given that this is one singular piece of commentary providing a perspective that is part of the whole I believe it was a well written, cogent, and great beginning to a very needed discourse concerning fundraising in the HBCU community. Great job!!

  • Mary Phoenix


    I love and understand everything pointed out in this article, and all is so true HBCU’S refuse to take any responsibility for the problems we face and that is the biggest problem!! GREAT RESPONSE.

    • http://about.me.com/travismartin Travis L. Martin ’05

      Jeron21, great response to Belmont1929’s comment. I couldn’t have said it any better. This was a well written perspective from Dr. Faison.

    • Ryan

      I guess the billions of grants given, yes given to White institutions are null and void. All while neglecting, for bias reasons, HBCU’s. A little erudition should correct you lack of facts and knowledge about HBCU’s.

  • Belmont1929

    I think this article provides interesting but incomplete insights. How does the writer know whether Dr. Dre was approached by an HBCU, or any other entity that aims to assist Black folk?? I too am tasked with fundraising as part of my administrative duties (and I’ve done so in both HBCU’s and PWI’s) and know how difficult it is to get an audience with the wealthiest prospects whether white or Black. For many of our Black superstars (whether in business, sports, entertainment or politics) it is extremely difficult to get to them, and when we are able to do so we are often first met with the gatekeepers. For athletes it’s often the agents who are, overwhelmingly, white. They serve as advisors on the investment and philanthropic activities of their clients and HBCU’s are rarely on their radar. One of our largest donors happens to be an agent and provided this bit of info to us.

    Another point missing form this piece is this notion that HBCU’s don’t commit resources to development and fundraising because they are shortsighted and essentially poorly run enterprises. How soon we forget. When HBCU’s, particularly the small, private institutions, have to make the difficult decision between providing for another student who might not get a chance at an education, and the addition of a dedicated staff person to spend the 2-3 years it takes to cultivate a donor, guess which priority wins out? These are the students these large elite institutions ignore and, recently, have sought to exclude because they demand resources these schools are unwilling to commit.n I think the argument made by the writer is kind of typical of what I see in the opinions of a new class of administrator, that doesn’t acknowledge the long history of struggle of HBCu’s and the difficulty of surviving under these circumstances.

    Even with these cautions, I can’t say that Dre SHOULD have given the funds to an HBCU — but he could have. Bill and Camille Cosby found enough reasons to give to HBCU’s even though they never attended one. Oprah’s done the same, as have some white philanthropists. In the end it is more important that individuals understand the connections between their gifts, their conscience and their goals. It would have been interesting for me to have been able to see a more nuanced and presentation of Black giving and the dynamics surrounding the practice.

  • William

    I can give a personal example of fundraising effort differences. I got my undergraduate education at a prominent HBCU, and I got my graduate education at a prominent historically white school. The HBCU has written me maybe twice total, never about fundraising. The historically white school, despite being an undergraduate-focused school, wrote me a month after my graduation granting me free life insurance for six months and had the school’s magazine delivered to me, free of charge. The white school has maintained contact with me despite my moving several times, and I’ve never informed them of any address change. For reasons I won’t get into here I haven’t given to either school, but let’s be honest which school is better positioned to get a check from me? Even if you remove the “gifts” from the argument, if a school doesn’t even bother asking for funds from graduates, a school’s not going to consistently get results. Thanks for writing the article, it brought up an interesting issue for me.

  • kevin

    Clearly, you have a great appreciation for the Kings English; however, some HBCU’s leaders do not understand their role. For example, members of the indivisual board of governance should set the example for fund raisngs and not mico-managing the day to day operations of a university or college. Funding raisng starts with board members. I agree to a point about leadership, but the conversation MUST include the type of people who are selected to be on theses various boards. If the leadership is not setting the example, how do we except for Dr.DRE, or anyone to donate monies to our institutions. Great comments, but some people are extremely mis-guided in their responsibilities in given back to the institutions that made it possible for them to suceed professionally and feed their families. Remember giving starts at home.

  • Shica

    I frequently have to call Universities for charitable giving matters. You would be amazed at the disparities in willingness or even ability to assist you. Look at the websites of the Universities randomly. For some, you have to dig around for the opportunity to give or who to contact if you wanted to give. When or if I ever get to that contact, I point out that the website lacks this info. I get excuses, they blame others or explain away why I am wrong.

  • Morgan

    Excellent insights. I’m curious now about when this breakdown in strategic efforts for advancement/development began to occur at HBCU’s and why? As the gsmith offered in his comments on the article, there was once a time when “we” had a model for fundraising and “we” followed that model. When did we lose sight of this and why? I think we need to ask and answer that question…

    • Teacher

      Integration changed it all; That’s when the breakdown in strategic efforts started!

  • http://nebowman.wix.com/nelson-bowman-lll Nelson Bowman

    Good and honest commentary as it’s time we (HBCUs) take a look in the mirror…

  • http://gsmith6043.wordpress.com gsmith6043

    Booker T Washington would have gotten that $35 Million from Dr. Dre to go to Tuskegee instead of USC because Washington would have been in Dre’s ear from the beginning not after the money’s changed hands to a already wealthy “white” school. HBCU Presidents really need to learn from his example. Every waking moment you’re fundraising and building relationships that will benefit your University and it’s students. Booker literally fundraised for Tuskegee until the day before he died.

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  • http://peteramckay.wordpress.com Peter McKay

    Great advice, Dr. Faison. In the particular case of Dre, I’d add that a big motivator was probably pure geography, that he wanted to give to a cause in his hometown.

    This is certainly a valid, well precedented way to approach philanthropy from the donor side, so I can’t really begrudge him it. Unfortunately, he just happens to live in a town with no HBCs. That’s tough to take as an HBC grad myself, but I mostly just chalk it up to bad luck.

  • Crystal

    Excellent article. You have shed some light upon an area in our institutions that needs revamping.

    • Crystal


  • J. D. Jones

    Great points!! You were not breathing Hot Air…. good article

  • http://twitter.com/DrBirgittaSays Birgitta Johnson (@DrBirgittaSays)

    Finally some truth….All the truth.

  • http://revolutionarypaideia.com Antonio Maurice Daniels

    Great article! Your article helps to provide a greater understanding of what HBCUs need to do to obtain the type of financial donation that Dre gave to USC.

  • http://aboutme.com/travismartin Travis L. Martin ’05

    Excellent article and great prospective on the direction of higher education and historically black colleges & universities.

  • Joel

    Very well said.

  • Nat Irvin II

    Written by one who apparently understands the development profession..cheers.