Capital Campaigns for Community Colleges: Making a Case to Donors

Imagine a college or university making a capital campaign pitch with this kind of clear return-on-investment data: every $1 given to scholarships generates nearly four times the amount in lifetime student earnings.

That’s the case with Macomb Community College, which raised more than $10 million for its largest-ever fundraising campaign concluding in 2018. The campaign, called “Mission Macomb: Creating Opportunities & Channing Lives” exceeded its goal by 8 percent and doubled the number of private scholarships available to students.

While capital campaigns have traditionally been associated with four-year institutions, robust fundraising efforts are gaining momentum in community colleges around the country. The data from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) shows that over the last decade, the average community college endowment grew by 76 percent.

This data suggests a big opportunity for community colleges that are not already running a capital campaign. Successful capital campaigns can help community colleges fund their educational missions, diversify funding sources so that they are less vulnerable to volatility of public funding, and become more competitive by funding high-quality programs.

However, what makes capital campaigns a unique opportunity for community colleges is that they are ideally positioned to make a strong case to their donors:

Donor contributions make an immediate and measurable student impact.
Given lower community college tuition, donors can realize a significant impact from their contribution. Each contribution goes further in supporting student aid. Also, because community colleges tend to serve low-income students, they boost economic mobility at a greater rate than their four-year institutional peers. See the Macomb Community College example.

Donor contributions will fuel economic prosperity.
Across the county, industries such as manufacturing, infrastructure and transportation — those that require education somewhere between a high school diploma and a four-year degree — are seeing shortages of skilled workers. Research shows that some 30 million jobs in the United States that pay an average of $55,000 per year don’t require bachelor’s degrees.

Community colleges are poised to answer this demand by offering high-quality training programs that will support the economy and create pathways to high-paying jobs. Donors who want to see their contributions create a real economic impact in their community see community colleges as great partners in their philanthropy efforts.

In 2014, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) commissioned Economic Modeling Specialists International to quantify the economic impact of community colleges in the United States. According to the report, “community college-educated workers have higher earnings than workers without any postsecondary education, which leads to higher tax revenues and increased demand for goods and services throughout the economy.”

Convincing donors requires more than just facts and figures.
While making the case to community college donors rests on the transformative impact their contributions will have on the lives of students and their community, facts and figures are not enough. Community colleges who are looking to motivate donors must balance between proof and heart. They must tell stories of lives that have changed, businesses that have prospered and communities that have been reenergized — all in some way touched by their school.

If your institution needs help creating capital campaign communications, consider partnering with us.