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3 Ways to Increase Private Funding

By Emily Rogan

Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College in New York City, is thinking creatively about how to increase private funding.

As at other community colleges, financial support for many students at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, N.Y., means more than just covering tuition.

“We had a student walking two hours a day because he couldn’t afford the $120 for a MetroCard,” says LaGuardia President Gail Mellow. “Our students are holding down two or three jobs a day. They face issues of poverty and homelessness; these students do not have a support system in place and we need to get it for them.”

Of course, providing this support system takes money, and government funding is dwindling. Like other community college leaders, Mellow is working to increase funding through private donations; the challenges she faces were documented in this recent New York Times article.

Here, Mellow shares three ways that LaGuardia has built relationships to increase donations.

1. Reach out to businesses in multiple ways

At LaGuardia, companies can “adopt the college for a day.” For example, a company’s employees might come to campus and teach a first-year seminar on helping students adapt to college life. Students can ask questions about the company and possible career pathways, and the company gets a sense of the students and their potential as future employees.

“A company is more likely to support you in a corporate way if you find multiple ways to make that connection,” Mellow says.

She stresses the importance of working with the community that you’re serving. “You have to use what you have — Rotary, United Way, businesses with workforce development, those that are connected to the community.”

2. Get students giving

Mellow has just four development staff members, so they need to use everything — and everyone — at their disposal.

LaGuardia has a student fundraising day, during which clubs and organizations encourage all students to make a donation, however small.

The idea, “Let’s send one of our own to college,” is powerful and creates a sense of pride and ownership for students. And it’s well documented that students who are invested and engaged in their college are more likely to complete their degree or certificate.

3. Tell student stories

“I love statistics, but the most important thing is to get your students’ stories out there,” Mellow says. Most potential donors probably have no idea how hard her students work just to attend. “They are so hungry for education.”

When she invited Bill Gates Sr. to campus to hear her students speak, “He said, ‘I’m amazed, I’m amazed, I’m amazed,’” Mellow recalls.

LaGuardia hosts lunches and invites potential donors to meet students face-to-face. These lunches break down barriers on both sides: The donors get to hear students’ stories firsthand, and students have a chance to meet successful, wealthy people, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

“You don’t have to prep them; the students will be more articulate than any college president could ever be in telling their stories,” Mellow says.

It’s also important to communicate to donors the impact of their gifts — just $10,000 pays a year’s tuition and expenses for a LaGuardia student. “[Donors] are going to change lives, and those lives are going to stay in the community and get that message across,” Mellow says.

How has your college increased private support? Tell us in the Comments.

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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