Bennett bets on Dole

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The drive headed by former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole to raise $50 million for Bennett College in Greensboro represents an unusual strategy rooted in the year-old effort by Johnnetta Cole to revive the school’s financial fortunes.

 Under the presidency of Cole, who quickly installed a new executive and fundraising team, Bennett has raised $9.1 million, including more than $1 million from alumnae, the most they ever have given.

The women’s school, which faced a $3.8 million shortfall a year ago after raising less than $2 million in the previous two years combined, also has generated contributions from students, faculty, staff and trustees, plus big gifts and pledges from foundations and corporations.

That support, coupled with staff cuts, helped erase the school’s operating deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“We still have to find other ways to raise money,” says Jacqueline Pollard, vice president for institutional advancement.

This year, the school wants alumnae to double last year’s support, and will ask other donors to give at least 10 percent more, she says.

Plans for the $50 million drive are “not like a typical campaign,” says Pollard, who was vice president for institutional advancement at Albany State University in Georgia and before that executive assistant to Cole when she headed Spelman College in Atlanta.

Schools rarely announce the launch of big drives without first assessing how much donors are likely to give, and then conducting “quiet” campaigns to raise as much as half the goal.

But Bennett, which since 2001 has been on probation from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools because of its financial troubles, needs to make a lot of progress quickly, Pollard says.

Funds from the drive, with Dole recruiting a committee of corporate, academic and philanthropic leaders to help Cole and Pollard raise money, will support student scholarships, faculty recruitment and development, and overdue building repairs.

The drive builds on steps taken by Cole, who as Spelman’s president from 1987 to 1997 raised nearly $114 million, at the time the most ever at a historically black school.

Cole and her team “have come in and really taken the bull by the horns and positioned Bennett College to go forward,” says Marian B. Tasco, a member of the Philadelphia City Council and chair of the school’s board of trustees.

Pollard says community support has been critical.

“We wanted to close the gap between the college and the community,” says Pollard, who also is working with consultants to design a program to develop support through wills and planned gifts.

“We need to have in place ways for people to give other than just writing checks,” she says.

Big donors over the past year, and their gifts or pledges, include Sally and Robert J. Brown, chairman and CEO, B&C Associates, High Point, $500,000, to be matched by Duke Energy; Krispy Kreme $250,000; Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, $200,000; Wachovia Foundation, $150,000; and Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, Cemala Foundation and United Guaranty, $100,000 each.

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