As Black History Month draws to a close, I have been reflecting on my prior work as the chief advancement officer at Florida A&M University from 2008 to 2011. During my time at FAMU we were the first to launch new “text to give” technology; corporate and foundation partnerships were on the rise; and FAMU was tied with several other universities for 38th place on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s College and University Endowments list. The team and I were pleased by what we were accomplishing.

Fast forward to today to my role as managing principal of Washburn & McGoldrick. As a consultant, I am often reminded of my time at FAMU when working with several of our HBCU clients. Lately, I have been asking myself three big questions:

  1. Are HBCUs having better fundraising outcomes now than a decade ago?  
  2. Do some of the same headwinds that were present back then still exist in 2024?  
  3. What does transformation look like today compared to a decade ago?

I posed these questions to chief advancement officers at three Washburn & McGoldrick clients — Jeff Shaw, Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the Foundation at Harris-Stowe University (a public HBCU in the St. Louis, Missouri area); Tonya Hall, Vice President for Advancement and External Engagement at Virginia State University (a public HBCU in Petersburg, Virginia); and Carme Williams, my Washburn & McGoldrick consulting colleague who is currently serving as Interim Vice President of Development and Alumni Affairs at Texas Southern University (a public HBCU in Houston, Texas.) Here is what they had to say:

Are HBCUs having better fundraising outcomes now than a decade ago?

Both Jeff and Tonya believe HBCU’s have become a bigger topic and are more highly regarded today than 15 years ago. They both cited factors such as McKenzie Scott’s transformational gifts (VSU was one of the fortunate recipients) that many HBCUs received — for most, the biggest gift ever in their history. “We leveraged our McKenzie Scott gift to attract other gifts, and that gift is what made us believe we could launch a comprehensive campaign. That gift buoyed VSU and it gave us confidence to make larger corporate asks,” Tonya shared. Jeff also believes it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Vice President, Kamala Harris, attended an HBCU, bringing additional focus to HBCUs.

Jeff and Carme both mentioned many corporations and foundations are currently focused on social consciousness and are striving to meet DEI goals. Given this renewed focus (I describe it as renewed because it was a focus 15 years ago when I was a chief advancement officer at FAMU), many CEOs are now intentionally focused on HBCUs as a place to recruit, invest, and positively impact students. “TSU is experiencing and receiving interest from ‘wealthy donors’ who are looking at TSU as a place where they want to invest philanthropically,” said Carme.

Tonya also noted that VSU is the first HBCU to host a Presidential Debate, putting the institution more on the national media coverage stage and increasing awareness of VSU.

Do some of the same headwinds that were present back then still exist in 2024?

When asked about headwinds HBCUs face, Jeff notes that even today, not everyone recognizes the need for HBCUs. He believes there is work to be done to tell the story better of why these significant institutions have a purpose today, and why they deserve philanthropic investment from alumni, parents, friends, corporations, and foundations.

Both Tonya and Carme focus on the stewardship and ROI lens. They anticipate that delivering strong on stewardship will be a real game changer. Carme adds, “At TSU ensuring we are providing the ‘customer service’ donors are accustomed to receiving at predominantly white institutions (PWIs), despite having lower staffing levels, will be key to keeping donor engagement levels high.” Tonya also noted there is growing pressure on HBCUs to demonstrate return on investment after gifts are received.

All three note that many states are reducing funding for public higher education, disproportionately impacting HBCUs, which historically rely heavily on state appropriations, thus increasing the need for HCBUs to raise more private philanthropic support.

What does transformation look like today versus a decade ago?

Both Harris Stowe and VSU are in early phases of campaigns inclusive of STEM-focused priorities. Both Jeff and Tonya believe this focus and our country’s deficiency in workforce in STEM has garnered the attention of individual, corporate and foundation transformational level donors. Tonya noted the importance of HBCUs addressing real world, current and future societal needs, sharing an example of a partnership VSU has forged with a mega-church in Richmond to establish a Center for Entrepreneurship.

Carme mentioned that TSU has begun to think holistically about corporate engagement. “Sometimes, it takes a few years for it to catch on (with faculty). Once individuals realize everyone will benefit, not just a few (departments), we make bigger asks, we provide more in-depth proposals, we have a larger brain trust around the table. As we continue to develop these internal relationships, I know we will secure even larger philanthropic gifts for the university in the future.”

“Transformative philanthropy goes beyond one-time donations to strengthen HBCUs’ internal infrastructure, faculty development, and fundraising capabilities, ensuring long-term sustainability and resilience,” stated Tonya Hall.

According to these three leaders, fundraising is up at their respective institutions, and they are on track to meet and possibly exceed goals for the ’23 – ’24 fiscal year.

Reflecting on my conversation with these leaders, I believe HBCUs are still on a fundraising uphill climb but for some, the climb may be a little less steep as awareness and philanthropic investment increases. Some of the same headwinds still exist as they did fifteen years ago in HBCU fundraising, but so are the same optimism and collective wisdom amongst HBCU CAOs and their presidents to creatively forge ahead despite those headwinds.

At Washburn & McGoldrick we have been serving an array of different types of educational institutions from public and private universities, private liberal arts colleges, HBCUs and independent K-12 institutions for nearly 30 years. If we can be a thought partner with your institution’s advancement team regarding fundraising services, alumni engagement, preparing for a campaign or campaign counsel, please contact us at