By Todd Cohen
GREENSBORO, N.C. — North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro is preparing for a comprehensive fundraising campaign that has just begun the early stages of its “quiet” phase, and could set a goal and begin its three-year public phase in 2017.
The school faces big challenges as well as big opportunities as it plans for the campaign, says Kenneth E. Sigmon Jr., who joined A&T in January as vice chancellor for university advancement.
Sigmon says the school, which has 24 positions in development, advancement services and alumni relations, needs to fill nine of them, and aims to grow the team soon by three to four more.
The school also needs to build “best practices” for its annual-giving program, he says, as well as secure major gifts and planned gifts; identify alumni it has lost track of; and increase the share of alumni who contribute to the school.
And for a comprehensive campaign, which will raise money for capital needs, programs, faculty support, scholarships, annual fund and endowment, the timetable is relatively short because the funds it will raise will be used to address goals the school set in 2011 that it aims to achieve by 2020.
The total value of those needs is nearly $270 million, an amount that will need to be adjusted as A&T sets priorities and gauges the response of top donors to its “case” for support, says Sigmon, who previously served for three years as vice president of development at the Oklahoma State University Foundation, and before that was associate vice chancellor for university development at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
“Being on a fast track, we don’t necessarily have the typical cultivation period for a lot of major donors,” he says. “But the opportunity is that we’ve had some very generous alumni and friends already contribute, so we have a base of generous supporters that help by giving and opening doors to other people.”
With a study that Atlanta consulting firm Alexander Haas has conducted for it on the feasibility of a campaign, A&T has begun a year-long effort to talk to roughly 100 of its top donors, friends and volunteers, making its case for their support.
Based on their responses, the school will set a goal for the campaign.
Critical to the campaign will be filling vacant positions, including associate vice chancellor for development; assistant vice chancellor for advancement services; director of stewardship and donors relations; prospect researcher; director of gift planning; director of major gifts; and four major gift officers.
Of those, the school is actively recruiting for the positions of associate vice chancellor and stewardship director, and both alumni-relations jobs.
Sigmon also needs to fill a communications position and a program officer in the office of alumni relations, and possibly an additional position in the area of stewardship and donors relations.
“Major” gifts, or those of $25,000 or more, will be key to the campaign, as will developing “best practices” for the annual fund. Overall giving to the school each year, including to the annual fund, has totaled about $7 million in recent years.
Annual giving is “not only a source annual revenue, but it’s renewable, expandable and flexible, and a breeding ground for future major-gift prospects,” Sigmon says.
Planned gifts, or those that are deferred and involve complex transactions, likely will account for up to 20 percent to 25 percent of the campaign.
Also key will be corporate and foundation support, which in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014, accounted for nearly half of private support the school received.
And the school’s strategic plan calls for roughly tripling its endowment to $75 million in 2020 from $45 million.
A&T also aims to boost — from eight percent — the share of alumni who contribute to the school. That “participation rate” puts A&T in the top third of the 17 schools in the University of North Carolina system, but behind UNC-Chapel Hill, which at roughly 17 percent has the highest rate, Sigmon says.
With contact information for 48,000 to 50,000 alumni, the school also is working to find “lost” alumni.
And it aims to use social media and email in the campaign, and to get students involved in annual giving before they graduate.
“The university wants to be the preeminent land-grant university, the institution of choice for very-high-achieving students who are inspired by what we do as a land-grant — teaching and learning, civic engagement, and transformative research that helps solve the grand challenges of society,” Sigmon says.
A&T, which was founded in 1891 with federal land-grant funding, was the second land-grant university in the U.S. — after Iowa State University — and the first in North Carolina for people of color.
The goal of the advancement office, Sigmon says, is to “support the long-term vision of the university and serve the community here at A&T by making the university affordable for students, by having high-quality faculty, and by putting those kinds of programs in place that are cornerstones of a land-grant university, and doing that through private philanthropy.”