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As a fundraiser at Prairie View A&M University, I am often asked by campus student groups to review and revise fundraising plans to assist their organizations with moving to the next level.

Recently, I met with an organization in which the leader introduced a much more direct approach for accessing funding. His proposal consisted of inviting entertainer Bill Cosby to campus to speak.

He said, “Cosby leaves a paper-trail wherever he goes so if he comes here, we’re pretty much guaranteed a donation.” When asked if he or anyone else in the group had a relationship with Mr. Cosby, the answer was as I expected, “no.”

Over the last seven years of being a professional fundraiser, I have discovered quite a number of absolutes – the number one reason people give is because they are asked – the number one reason people do not give is because they are not asked.

I could not agree more with the young man and his enthusiasm toward a “straight-out ask” approach as I’m a firm believer in sharing an organization’s needs in an attempt to identify funding sources that share similar interest. However, when it comes to on-campus student groups, especially at HBCUs, students overlook their closest and largest constituent group…themselves.

Consider this example of self-help: HBCUs on average have 3400 students enrolled annually. What if half of those agreed to make a $35.00 contribution over the academic school year to support a student led initiative? Donations could be a one-time gift, or a pledge of $3.88 for nine months. This breaks down to .97 cents per week which would equate to a grand total of roughly $60,000. So in essence, this monetary sacrifice of a weekly order of McDonalds french fries , could be used to establish an endowed scholarship that could last into perpetuity – created and administered by students for students. As an added incentive for investing in endowed scholarships, many HBCUs offer matching funds for endowments over a certain amount, which would significantly boost the value of the initial principal.

At Prairie View, all endowments with a $25,000 minimum value are eligible for 1:1 dollar matching. In using the example above, $60,000 in student contributions could be parlayed into a $120,000 endowment instantly. Over five years, assuming student giving would remain constant, the endowment value could easily rise to $600,000, yielding an average annual interest of $24,000. Wow, that is a lot of scholarship money from a mere dollar per week investment.

Students could choose other alternatives for the funds, such as bringing in national talent for speaking engagements or securing prominent recording artist for homecoming, the idea of students doing for themselves, is the remarkable and noteworthy lesson to be had here. I think the likes of a Bill Cosby might be much more inclined to “leaving a paper-trail” if this type self-help initiative was already in place.

Give HOPE. Live HOPE.

Nelson Bowman, III
Guest Blogger

About the Author

Nelson Bowman, III  is the director of development at Prairie View A&M University. He is also the co-author of two books, Unearthing Promise and Potential: Our Nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities and A Guide to Fundraising at Historically Black College and Universities: An All Campus Approach and a forthcoming book, The Essential Guide to Fundraising from Diverse College Alumni Cultivating.