Promise Programs — Creating a New Philanthropic World

Promise Programs - Creating a new philanthropic world

Promise Programs — Creating a New Philanthropic World

If your state or community has a Promise Program, chances are you’ve heard your funders say something along these lines:

“I only give scholarships, so if Community College is ‘free,’ where does that leave me?”

“I guess I should think of other organizations to support — with free tuition, you don’t really need my money.”

Based on input from a session I co-facilitated at the recent AACC Annual Convention in Dallas, this type of response to Promise Programs is common among community college funders and our leaders are struggling with how to adapt.

The first campaign I ever ran was at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts and I will never forget what we learned in the feasibility study – the community wanted to “give everyone the opportunity to attend HCC. No matter what their financial challenges were, if there was a barrier, the community will knock it down and fund student’s dreams with scholarships.” The Gift of Opportunity Campaign was born, and the lifeblood of the funding was primarily scholarships. The community came together and knocked down any financial barriers by funding multiple endowed scholarships. We were raising money for a building project in addition to scholarships, yet most funders made clear that their passion was in removing financial barriers – through scholarships.

Lessons learned:

  1. Scholarships are at the heart of community college fundraising.
  2. Listen to your funders’ passions.

Then, along came Promise Programs and the concept of FREE community college educations. Now what?

As one attendee of our session stated, “We NEED to be Donor-Centered. If my donors want to support scholarships and we have a Promise Program in place – what do I say to them?”

The answer to this question isn’t about what we SAY to funders. It’s what we HEAR from donors – their passions haven’t changed. And even with Promise Programs, there still exists a compelling case for raising funds to remove financial barriers—just different ones.

The single Mom who can’t attend class because she has no money for childcare.

The student who is living in his car, and gives up on his dream of college.

The student who can’t afford books and supplies so drops out of school.

The reality is, low-Income students are still at a disadvantage with some—not all—costs covered. There are still students falling between the cracks

Additionally, Promise Programs generally mean more students have access to the community college and more students stretch campus resources, student to faculty ratio increases, and facilities capacity is strained. More access to education also means greater student success accountability, and areas such as tutoring and mentoring programs are bursting at the seams.

So, in this new community college philanthropic world of Promise Programs, opportunities abound for funders whose passion lies in removing barriers:

  • Funding tutoring and mentoring programs.
  • Creating student emergency funds to support childcare needs, transportation challenges, and/or food insecurity.
  • Textbook funds to help students pay these often overlooked expenses.
  • Endowing faculty positions to ensure that student to faculty ratios remain low.
  • Expanding campus facilities to meet the growing population of students.

Promise Programs are changing the fundraising world. Development teams that realize these new opportunities and can connect the dots between passion and purpose will see increased contributions to enhance and expand access to education beyond traditional scholarship funding.

About the author

Joe April

Joe has more than 25 years of experience in community college resource development programs as a staff member and consultant. His wealth of experience makes Joe an invaluable resource to our community college clients.