Debunking the spirit of alumni donations

Freshman Class of 1999 presents a donation for $190,599 during the 2019 football game.
Photo courtesy Tallahassee Democrat

It is no secret that love for Florida A&M University runs deep through students, faculty, and outsiders alike. Either as a fan of the often duplicated but never replicated Marching 100, an affiliate of one of the many campus organizations, or as an avid student, the lifetime connections made while on the highest of seven hills have stood for generations to see.

But as students transition into alumni, it would seem only natural to give back to the grounds which housed such strong memories. Unfortunately, the rate of which those who have risen to the cause to assist with the funding has yet to surpass 10%.

“I think that for most students, they don’t have the money,” said Alexis McKinley, a 2016 graduate of FAMU.

According to the official FAMU Strategic Plan, the alumni donation rate has been recorded as 6% as of 2017. Fortunately, actions have been made since then to change the tides.

“We have to continue to give, in light of some of the lack of funding that we don’t get from the state of Florida,” said FAMU National Alumni Association president, Colonel Gregory L. Clark.

“A lot of time (we) have to step up and fill those gaps. So just as FAMU has done a lot for us, it’s time for us to pay it forward and ensure that FAMU has what she needs so she’s around for years to come to educate those baby rattlers yet born.”

The FAMU NAA is responsible for year-long fundraising efforts for the University, collecting funds for student scholarships, supporting student-athletes and the athletic department, and supplying grants for students in financial need.

“That’s our mission, we are the guardians of the orange and green, we’re there to ensure that after it’s all said and done, the last person standing is always going to protect Florida A&M University as an alumni body. I encourage to continue to give, give often, (and) look at ways to endow funds to the university.”

The recent grad attitude may reflect a hesitation to give back to the university, but as recent projects hosted by a number of organizations outside of the FAMU NAA will show, it is only a matter of time.

“The first time I donated back to the university was probably 10 years after I graduated,” reflected Kristin Harper, co-chair of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. 2017 scholarship initiative that resulted in a $125,000 donation to FAMU female student scholarships.

“We drummed up support from all of the generations…ultimately within 9 months we raised over $130,000 and we were able to make a presentation during the homecoming halftime,” she continued.

Because of this support, both from alumni and corporate assistance, FAMU has currently collected over $11 million in funds this year reaching the goal set by the FAMU Board of Trustees, riding the wave of success after a reported 84% surge in alumni giving. The year has seen a successful period from FAMU alumni coming together to commemorate their time on the hill with multiple projects debuting their efforts this year, the most featured achievement accomplished by FAMU Freshman Class of 1999’s record-breaking donation of over $195,000.

“For us specifically, we were looking for something to do to honor our 35th anniversary of coming into the university,” said Howard Gatson, a member of the FAMU Freshman Class of 1984 endowment scholarship initiative that has resulted in a donation of over $35,000 to the university.

“I had heard that there were some groups of folks who were fundraising and giving back and that was something that was on my heart anyway because I had read a lot of interviews and statistics that FAMU specifically had a very very low giving rate and it was in the 5-6% and I felt like for all that the school had given us…we needed to step up and do more for the school,” Gatson said.

As the university continues to receive donations from grateful alumni, the spirit of providing “excellence with caring” continues to inspire those who have yet to give to chip in and those who have already begun, to continue to advocate for providing a plentiful amount of scholarships and financial necessities for any and all students in need.

“I honestly wish that life hadn’t gotten in the way and that would’ve been something we would have brought about as soon as we left school maybe five years out because we could have been doing this long ago, and now that we’re doing it we just seem energized,” Gatson reminisced.

With the recent rise in giving, it has become apparent the attitude regarding alumni donations has risen to new heights and will most likely result in a shift in rates for FAMU students to reap the benefits from for years to come.

“The whole thing about paying forward, leaving a legacy and helping students who may be less fortunate…it makes you feel good to know you’re doing something positive for the next generation,” Gatson closed.