Tap your unique strengths to grow endowments

When it comes to endowments, community colleges aren’t necessarily known for having huge coffers.

According to the 2016 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments, the average endowment among all schools stood at about $639.9 million in FY16; for the 26 community colleges that participated in the survey, the average was roughly $36.4 million.

But some community colleges are trying to actively grow their endowments, tapping into their unique strengths and value they provide to the regions they call home.

Below, several community college administrators share their tips for success:

Showcase your value. Community colleges are a vital resource to their surrounding localities and employers.

Share that connection by linking outcomes of your training programs to the local workforce to generate giving, suggests Melissa Beardmore, vice president of learning resources management at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. “We are getting more donations from individuals who are invested in the community and recognize our contribution to its workforce,” Beardmore says.

Offer new purposes for giving. Traditional student scholarships are a typical source of endowment funding, but some donors may want to support noncredit programs or other types of financial aid. As emergency aid and “microgrants” gain recognition and momentum, for instance, some community colleges are finding new financial support when individuals can give directly to these programs.

At Pierce College in Washington state, administrators say providing a way to support emergency aid contributed to a 50 percent uptick in funds raised at its annual gala. “The fact that it’s not necessarily tuition or fees or books that get in the way of students attending has generated a fundraising focus at Pierce on funds for emergency grants, and the community has responded very generously,” says Choi Halladay, the college’s vice president of administrative services.

Engage your faculty. There are many ways to bring faculty into fundraising efforts, community college administrators note.

Some colleges, such as the College of Central Florida, have seen success in creating giving events that engage faculty, staff and students alike, as well as leveraging relationships faculty have around the region for support. “The foundation is fortunate that the college has a strong reputation in both the business and wider community, which allows the relationships of college staff in the community to play a role in connecting gift opportunities with areas of need the college is working to address,” says F. Joseph Mazur III, vice president for administration and finance at the College of Central Florida.

Think beyond funds. Endowments also grow through careful management of spend rates. Donations of equipment can forestall the need to expend endowment funds and can also create a gateway to future financial donations.

Following this strategy, Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona asked its career and technical education faculty and dean to identify opportunities for equipment donations. This resulted in gifts worth more than $1 million to aviation department programs and reinforced relationships with community partners.

Communicate the impact. Giving to your community college’s endowment will have a direct effect on the students and programs donors choose to support.

Market the opportunity for philanthropists to invest in making a difference, administrators at Florida’s Indian River State College advise — and consider inviting them to campus to “close the loop” and witness the impact they’ve made possible.

Do what works for your school. Currently, there are many different approaches to investment strategy and governance. Many smaller endowments have recently posted notable returns with simpler investment strategies than in the past, eschewing investments in alternative strategies. Community colleges should strive to establish investment and payout strategies that reflect the institution and its goals and priorities.

This article was first published in a recent issue of the American Association of Community Colleges’ Community College Journal.

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The National Association of College and University Business Officers
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