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Corporate donors – Fundraising challenge

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By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — The links between North Carolina’s community colleges and businesses extend to efforts to generate private support for the schools.

“Since we train the workforce for business and industry, it’s important that the business community help us do that job better, and sometimes it requires resources beyond what tax revenues can be used for,” says Martin Lancaster, president of the N.C. Community College System.

The North Carolina Community Colleges Foundation has raised more than $4 million, most of it from companies, in an endowment campaign launched in 1998

And most of the system’s 58 campuses assign a staff person to raise private dollars, says Chancy Kapp, assist to the president for external affairs for the system.

Wake Technical Community College, for example, raised $737,000 privately in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2001, with at least 90 percent of that coming from corporations, says Jane Rabon, executive director of the school’s foundation.

In a tough economy and a state with few big corporate headquarters, raising money can be a challenge, particularly because community colleges tend not to generate the loyalty among graduates that colleges and universities enjoy, Kapp says.

Instead, she said, community colleges tend to target corporate donors and base their fundraising pitch on their role in recruiting industry to the state, training employees and providing support to local companies and public schools.

The endowment campaign by the system’s foundation, which tries to avoid competing with individual campuses, supports initiatives with a statewide impact, as well as marketing efforts for the system.

Bank of America, for example, contributed $100,000 to the endowment campaign for one of Lancaster’s top priorities – cultivating “home-grown” teachers.

The idea is to encourage adults already living and working in local communities to become teachers. The community colleges would provide the first two years of their teacher training, which they would continue on the campuses through distance-learning and extension programs offered there by teacher-training programs at colleges and universities.

The initiative is expected soon to get a corporate gift that would be the biggest yet in the endowment campaign, eclipsing a $500,000 grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem to support the foundation’s operations.

The endowment campaign, launched in 1998 a year after Lancaster was named president and revived the then-dormant foundation, initially hoped to conclude by the end of 2000.

But the campaign slowed because of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the statewide campaign in 2000 for $3.1 billion in higher-education bonds and, more recently, the economic downturn.

Rabon at Wake Tech says community colleges face a huge challenge in raising private dollars because they are “taken for granted” and suffer from a widespread lack of awareness about the role they play in the communities they serve.

And because “the state has not made the community college system a full-fledged party in educational spending,” she says, corporations tend to give community colleges a lower priority in their philanthropy than they give to public schools or higher education.

Yet Wake Tech enrolls 50,000 people a year, awards high-school equivalency degrees each year to more students than any high school in Wake County graduates, provides customized training for company workers and delivers a range of services to Wake public school teachers and students.

Corporations “should return value for value received,” she says, “and that isn’t always happening.”

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