From $250K to $1M in 5
The year: 1999. The goal: Raise $250,000 over a five-year period for the W.E.B. DuBois College House Endowed Scholars Program, which provides tuition assistance to student leaders in DuBois House. The result: Successand then some.
The “250 in 5” initiative was conceived by Lolita Jackson EAS’89 and David France C’89 during a 10th reunion event called Black to School ’99, and quickly spread to the Black Alumni Society (BAS) and other key contributors. And by the time they had finished up at Homecoming this past October, they had raised $1 million. So far, four scholarships have already been provided to students.
Jackson acknowledges that she and her colleagues were “slightly nervous at first about our ability to reach $250,000,” but as it turned out, they surpassed their initial goal within the first year and a half of the campaign.
According to France, who was awarded the first Young Alumni Award at this year’s Alumni Award of Merit Gala, the goal existed “because we wanted to raise funds to raise the awareness of the legacy of Penn’s African-American students and alumni.”
From the outset, the BAS was “inspired by the possibility of mobilizing the African-American alumni in such a meaningful undertaking,” says Darius Treadwell W’82, the organization’s vice president. “We saw it as fundamental for our organization to help in any way that we could, and from the beginning we declared that BAS was committing itself to support the campaign through the entire five-year period. We knew that meant hosting some events and having lots of ongoing conversations; mostly we knew that it meant not letting people forget about the campaign, its importance, and their opportunity to make a difference.”
Among the events they hosted were the “Penn Blackouts”fundraisers and social gatherings held simultaneously in multiple cities around the country.
In Jackson’s opinion, the hardest part of the whole project was “getting over the initial apprehension of many alums to contribute to Penn at all.
“We had to surmount many preconceived notions about the importance of giving to Pennmany of our donors have never contributed to Penn before, and all of a sudden we were asking them for $25,000,” she notes. “Many of our largest donors were black alumni under the age of 40 who were first-time donors. A number of donors are now in leadership roles in the Penn Fund, class-reunion and gift committees, and other key areas of Penn.”
Not all of the important contributors were black. France noted that key donors included trustees George Weiss W’65, Leonard Lauder W’54, and Paul Williams W’67.
As the campaign neared its conclusion, the BAS leadership pondered ways to wrap up the initiative. It did so by announcing at the Award of Merit Gala this past October that it had pledged enough to put the campaign over the $1 million mark.
“Assuring the $1 million goal with our ‘wrap-up’ pledge,” says Treadwell, was a “perfect way to acknowledge David and Lolita for having done such a fabulous job, as well as communicating the message that BAS is ready to ‘take it to the next level’ in terms of our fundraising initiatives.”
Asked about the implications of this initiative for minority students, the BAS, and Penn, France replied succinctly: “We have more financial aid … less worry about tuition. Hooray!!!”
“I think the success of 250-in-5 has helped to inspire our African-American community to set its sights even higher in terms of the manner in which we are now ready to participate and impact the future of our community at Penn, and our legacy for the University as a whole,” says Treadwell. “As an example, BAS has recently been working with the University’s nationally renowned Center for Africana Studies in preparation for a multimillion-dollar fundraising initiative to support the center in its mission.”
“It has been great to see people come together for a common cause while also having a great time,” adds Jackson. “The five Blackout events as well as the two Black to School bookend events in 1999 and 2004 allowed many of us to revive the spirit of what made us enjoy Penn, and each other. To be able to reach down and give back to the current generations of students is most gratifying, and ensures there will be a lasting legacy.”S.H.
©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Colorful catalyst Ruth Lande Shuman