By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 2000, Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte received a grant of over $2 million over five years from the Kresge Foundation in Troy, Mich., as part of its initiative to strengthen development operations at five historically black colleges and universities.
Johnson C. Smith, which received the biggest Kresge grant, used the funds to double the size of its development staff and boost training, travel and computer software.
Last year, the final year of the grant, gifts to the school totaled just over $9 million, including $635,000 from alumni, both more than double the totals before the capacity-building effort began.
Now, as it prepares to kick off the public phase of a comprehensive campaign that has been raising money quietly, Johnson C. Smith aims to continue building the momentum it has generated as a result of the Kresge initiative.
Ken Westary, vice president for institutional advancement, says the recent increases in resources and staff has enabled the school to be more successful than it was in the past in securing alumni support.
With African Americans representing 99 percent of its 6,000 alumni, he says, Johnson C. Smith traditionally has faced a big challenge shared by all African-American nonprofits.
Research shows that, as a percentage of income, African Americans are among the most generous donors in the U.S., Westary says.
But they have tended to focus their giving on their churches.
The challenge, Westary says, is to encourage them to include other organizations in their giving.
The school now is focusing its fundraising on major gifts, or those of $10,000 or more, and integrating the annual fund into overall fundraising.
It also is shifting responsibility for annual giving, which typically involves smaller gifts, to the alumni affairs office because it has more and regular contact with alumni, Westary says.
And the school is segmenting its alumni, focusing on particular groups of alumni to fund particular initiatives.
The effort has paid off: Last year, 24 percent of alumni made a gift, up from 13 percent before the Kresge grant began.
Karen Lawler, director of development, says the strategy hinges on personal contact.
So the fundraising effort concentrates on phone calls to alumni by students, and visits by staff.
And Johnson C. Smith, founded in 1867, has alumni chapters and events in regions with large concentrations of alumni, more than half of whom live in the Carolinas and Georgia, with big groups also in the Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York areas.
This year, the school aims to raise alumni participation to 26 percent and increase their giving to $700,000.
And as it works to meet this year’s goals, and prepare for the kickoff of the campaign, the school continues to reach out to alumni.
While corporate and foundation giving have held steady over the years, and represent a big part of its fundraising, Westary says, “Johnson C. Smith like many other nonprofit is focusing a lot of our efforts on increasing giving from among our alumni.”