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UNCF Receives Historic $100M Gift To Bolster HBCU Endowments

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) has been awarded a historic $100 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to support its capital campaign. This marks the largest single unrestricted private investment ever made to UNCF, which the higher-education assistance organization intends to use to grow historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) endowments.

Endowments are used to support several priorities such as scholarships, faculty hiring and salaries, and upgrading facilities; but endowments at HBCUs significantly trail those of other institutions by at least 70%. The average Ivy League institution receives 178 times more foundation funding than the average HBCU. A U.S. Government Accountability Office study found HBCUs have an average of $15,000 in endowment per student, compared with $410,000 at comparable non-HBCUs.

Leaders from UNCF, joined by Lilly Endowment, Inc. president Jennett M. Hill, made the announcement Jan. 11 at Clark Atlanta University (CAU), which is one of UNCF’s 37-member institutions.

“After careful consideration, we have decided to allocate Lily Endowment’s unrestricted grant toward the establishment of an HBCU pooled endowment fund,” UNCF president and CEO, Dr. Michael L. Lomax said during the press conference. “This fund, which has a goal of $370 million dollars, will increase the endowments at each of our 37-member institutions by $10 million dollars. It is a strategic move that amplifies the impact of Lily Endowment’s transformational support.”

With the addition of this recent gift, Dr. Lomax says UNCF has now raised “$550 million dollars toward the capital campaign goal of $1 billion dollars since we launched the silent phase in 2020. Most of that funding has allowed us to provide larger scholarships to more students.”

This infusion of $100 million will immediately increase each UNCF member’s endowment by $2.7 million, which doubles the existing endowments of several HBCUs.

Pooled endowments can offer several benefits to HBCUs, according to a UNCF statement, including “increased investment power to access a wider range of investment opportunities in stocks, bonds and real estate that can potentially generate higher returns.” The goal is also to promote collaboration and networking among HBCUs, which can lead to enhanced fundraising, increased visibility and improved financial stability. UNCF also just launched a Philanthropy Institute to train fundraising professionals at HBCUs and other Black-led organizations.

Marc Barnes, UNCF senior vice president, capital campaign, said this historic donation is “far-reaching and long-lasting. It will change the financial trajectory of many HBCUs for many years to come.”

CAU president and chair of UNCF’s Institutional Board, Dr. George T. French, Jr., said this gift “will provide unprecedented support for the financial stability and continued success of UNCF’s member institutions. Our campuses stand ready to work with UNCF to accomplish the $370 million goal for the pooled unrestricted endowment.”

Since UNCF’s founding in 1944, Lilly Endowment has been a significant philanthropic supporter, according to UNCF. This $100 million follows a $50 million grant from Lilly Endowment in 2015 that enabled UNCF to launch the Career Pathways Initiative (CPI), which sought to strengthen the programs and capabilities of HBCUs to enhance career outcomes for students.