Johnson C. Smith preparing for campaign

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On Oct. 22, the evening before the homecoming game at Johnson C. Smith University, a group of alumni from the 1980s and late ‘70s hosted a reception at Smith House, the university’s residence in Myers Park that is home to the school’s president and includes space on the first two floors for fundraising events.

The alumni group, known as “Connecting the Vision,” presented the school with a check for $50,000 and expects to raise a total of $250,000 to support the vision of its president, Ronald L. Carter, to transform the historically-black university into Charlotte’s “premier independent urban university.”

Making that vision a reality could cost an estimated $500 million, and to help do that, Johnson C. Smith is in the planning phase for its biggest fundraising campaign ever, a five-to-seven-year drive that has not yet set a goal, says Joy Paige, vice president for institutional advancement.

Founded in 1867 as Biddle Memorial Institute under the patronage of the Committee of Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., the university has 1,350 students and roughly 6,000 alumni.

Those alumni play a key role in the university’s fundraising, says Paige, former senior vice president and community affairs manager for the Charlotte headquarters of Wachovia, a Wells Fargo company.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, alumni giving climbed above $1 million for the first time ever, with nearly one in four alumni contributing.

Overall, annual giving to the school totaled $11.2 million in the most recent fiscal year, including a one-time gift of $5.7 million from The Duke Endowment in addition to the annual support it provides.

Corporations and foundations contributed the remaining $4.5 million last year, including $1.2 million in annual support from The Duke Endowment.

The United Negro College Fund, for example, provided $200,000, while the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association gave $150,000.

The university also received $500,000 from the Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation for the development of the historic West End, including renovation of the former Griffin Brothers Tire Company as a teaching facility for the visual and performing arts. That gift leveraged additional support from the Cannon Foundation and Mellon Foundation.

And the university received $500,000 from the Belk Foundation and $250,000 from Food Lion for its retail-management program.

To gear up for the campaign, Paige says, the development office likely will add additional staff.

A key to an effective campaign will be a “customized communications strategy for each donor or prospect,” she says.

Younger alumni, for example, typically prefer to be contacted online and through social media, and to be thanked individually for smaller gifts.

“We need to match up with people’s lifestyles,” she says.

And realizing Carter’s vision for a university that meets the needs of Charlotte’s increasingly diverse community, Paige says, will require “preserving our history” as a historically black university while “utilizing that richness to educate diverse students.”

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