Areas for Improvement: The Impact of Inexperienced Leadership and Lack of Corporate Fundraising at HBCUs



Sheri Jefferson

There are many conversations about what is not working at Historically Black Colleges Universities (HBCUs). CEO’s/President’s inability to raise corporate funds (dollars or services) and decline in enrollment have contributed to administrator’s inability to bring about positive change. Therefore, a change in the narrative on the “impact of ineffective leadership” has to be discussed as a factor that can improve the stability and sustainability of HBCUs. Additional funding from alumni or the government is not going to correct poor leadership or solve the inability of a CEO to raise corporate dollars.

There are several other issues that plague HBCUs. For decades, HBCUs have had obstacles overcoming accreditation challenges, financial mismanagement, enrollment decline, infrastructure issues, being understaffed, and leadership turnover and retention. These obstacles dramatically affect the instability of the institution and are direct reflections of the leadership decisions that do not reflect the core values of the founders. The mission and goals of any college or university are directed by the leadership and the leader influences institutional staff to fulfill the mission and accomplish its goals set by the CEO and Board of Trustees. The leader is paramount to the institution’s success and they should aim to motivate, guide, and build the morale of the institution.

The Board of Trustees (“the Board”) is responsible for selecting the president based on the recommendations of the student body, alumni, faculty/staff and the surrounding communities. Presidents are charged with corporate fundraising and leading the institution in a direction that is applicable to the mission and vision of the institution. If the Board fails to select the best candidate or fails to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities to the students and alumni, then the stability of the institution becomes fragile. Good or bad, the leadership (Board of Trustees and administration) sets the standard for success. In order for HBCUs to progress, institutional change must start with the Board of Trustees.

While board members should not inject themselves in the day to day operations of the college, they must have a clear understanding of the institution’s policies and procedures of operations.  Recruiting and admission, finances, financial aid, and academic production are not the only areas that are important to the success of HBCUs; I believe these areas in conjunction with other areas lay the framework for an institution that is operating to serve students, alumni, and constituents. Therefore, board members have to reevaluate and reassess their fiduciary responsibility when selecting a president.  This is the first step in ensuring the vitality and success of our HBCUs. Selecting a president is one of the most important decisions the Board will make. If the Board does not understand what is required for these areas to function properly, how are they expected to hold the president accountable?

According to the American Council on Education (ACE), financial management and fundraising occupied a significant portion of college presidents’ time in 2016. Some of their biggest frustrations which include a lack of money and the degree to which constituent groups understand institutional challenges may shape this focus. Sixty-five percent of college presidents identify budget and financial management as an area that occupies most of their time. Forty-four percent of college presidents cite a lack of time to think and reflect as a key frustration. Fifty-five percent of college presidents believe the provost is the most supportive internal constituent.

Presidents and administrators must be equipped with meaningful data that will offer insight to enhance the revenue stream from alumni and private and corporate donors. Traditional fundraising efforts will help HBCU presidents secure substantial gifts from untapped donors. Having an appreciation for the donor’s wishes and making the donor feel connected to the institution and its leadership will likely aid them in acquiring a major gift. Philanthropists rely on their relationships with an institution to influence their giving. The lack of connection between prospective donors and the institution will result in unsatisfied philanthropists. Cultivating a meaningful and impactful donor relationship may lead to greater donor involvement and contribution. If historically Black colleges are to survive financially, they must learn how to plan effectively within the institutional context to achieve their desired fundraising results. Executing a rational approach to developing and implementing a comprehensive fundraising campaign is key. Categorizing institutional needs, developing plans for achieving those needs, planning for implementation of those plans, and actually executing the campaigns will be critical to the survival of these institutions. Some HBCUs have been able to do this very well such as Claflin University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Hampton University.

Governing boards, presidents, and other upper-level administrators should embrace and understand the purpose of fund development and its importance to the institution’s financial stability. In addition, recognizing that the removal of these obstacles—accreditation, finances, enrollment, infrastructure, understaffing, and changes in leadership, can ensure the stability of HBCUs.

Sheri Jefferson is a former higher education administrator. She has held positions as Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, Director of Financial Aid, and Adjunct Instructor. She has had the opportunity to alongside many talented individuals in higher education; which has afforded her the opportunity to increase her knowledge base in higher education. Sheri is currently a financial aid consultant.

She is passionate about young people and is committed to their success in college and in life. She understands that every student will not attend college but she knows that every student can be successful in whatever endeavor they choose to pursue.

Sheri is a member of the Army National Guard. She holds a master’s degree from Southern Wesleyan University and a bachelor’s degree from Benedict College. She is the mother of two sons; ages 24 and 21 and a proud grandmother of a 2-year-old.