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Opinion: The Importance of Alumni Giving and Capital Fundraising in the HBCU Community

In the month of September alone, several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have received substantial contributions from prominent institutions and individuals. HBCU alumni should also be enabled and encouraged to donate and fundraise to support their alma maters.

Dr. Issac Addae, co-founder of the HBCU Capital Impact Fund. Photo courtesy of Emanuel Roland

In the month of September alone, several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have received substantial contributions from prominent institutions and individuals. HBCU alumni should also be enabled and encouraged to donate and fundraise to support their alma maters.

Beyoncé and Jay Z recently partnered with Tiffany & Co. to develop a $2 million dollar scholarship fund for HBCU students. Mastercard also recently contributed a $5 million grant to Spelman College and Morehouse College, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded Morgan State University a five-year $7.5 million grant, and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration contributed a $30 million federal grant to Florida A&M University. 

Although contributions from philanthropists, corporations and the government are incredible and necessary, HBCUs should not wait for the wealthy to notice that they need money. The HBCU network of stakeholders – alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff, neighboring communities, financial supporters and advocates – is enough to make a difference. Dr. Isaac Addae, a Tennessee State University and Morgan State University alumnus and the co-founder of HBCU Impact Capital, believes this. 

“In the HBCU space, there is not a lot of venture capital activity other than funds recruiting alumni to work for them. We’re not seeing many VCs investing in the ideas of Black students on Black college campuses” Dr. Addae said.

HBCU Impact Capital is a private equity firm that operates as a hybrid venture capital studio and business incubator for Black universities and their surrounding communities. The firm invests in HBCU research commercialization, alumni businesses and economic development projects.

The firm works with Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University and the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta’s West End and Fisk University, Meharry Medical College and Tennessee State in North Nashville.

“There are patents that come out of Black colleges and some startup activity, but we don’t have a big ecosystem. We (HBCU Impact Capital) want to be that spark,” Addae said.

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Alumni giving creates opportunities for current students. Natalia Brown, 19, is a senior Public Relations major and African American Studies minor from the Atlanta region served by HBCU Impact Capital. Natalia is also a two-time Howard University Alumni Association scholarship awardee and first-generation college student.

“Without these scholarships, I would not have been able to further my education. With the HUAA scholarships my balance was paid in full, which allowed me to focus on my education. Coming from a single-parent household, I knew that my mom could not afford to send me to college, especially after enduring a pandemic,”  Brown said. 

Danny Glover, a Tennessee State University alumnus who has spent most of his time in the world of electoral politics and radical neighborhood development since graduating, believes that such initiatives similar to HBCU Impact Capital are necessary to keeping HBCUs open.

“It’s paramount to the success and preservation of our institutions. As alumni, we must be willing to make the necessary investments to ensure capital is present and available to support student scholarships or academic programming,” Mr. Glover said.

While some HBCUs have benefited from attention brought by social injustice, it is important to recall the needs of HBCUs that existed before the current wave of private and corporate social activism. Considering the challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also vital to recognize the disparities among HBCUs as private, public, smaller and larger institutions have varying endowments.

Compared with PWIs, HBCU endowments are disproportionate. The approximate aggregate endowment of HBCUs in 2019 was $4 billion compared with the $626 billion aggregate endowment of PWIs.  Furthermore, HBCU endowments vary as the five wealthiest private Black colleges had endowments between $73,000 and $200,000 per student in 2019, while the largest endowment for a public Black college was less than $25,000 per student.Fifty percent of Black colleges and universities are public, state-funded institutions, with many being historically underfunded and denied funding by both state and federal governments despite recent improvements in Maryland and Tennessee. Such circumstances increase the importance of alumni giving and cultivating opportunities for the HBCU community to reinvest in its many stakeholders.

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