5 things to know about philanthropy to HBCUs
For every $100 foundations give to an Ivy League school, how many dollars do you think foundations give to a historically Black college and university (HBCU)?
That’s a trick question—it’s not a matter of dollars, but of cents. In fact, for every $100 foundations gave to the average Ivy League, they gave 56 cents to the average HBCU.
HBCUs have long played a pivotal role in the United States. Despite being historically underfunded, these institutions have been essential in educating Black people, developing leaders, and addressing inequality. Little has been known about how philanthropy has—or hasn’t—supported them, until now. Candid and ABFE partnered to create and publish Philanthropy and HBCUs: Foundation funding to historically Black colleges and universities. The new report, based on both quantitative and qualitative research, is the most comprehensive analysis of institutional philanthropy to HBCUs.
At Candid, we love digging into social sector data, and we invite you to explore the many insights in this groundbreaking research. In the meantime, here are five key findings you should know about.
1. Big philanthropy’s support of HBCUs declined from 2002 to 2019
An examination of trends in philanthropic giving to HBCUs underscores a history of underfunding. In fact, large U.S. foundations steadily decreased their support of HBCUs, in terms of both percentage of total giving and grant dollars awarded. Across 18 years, while foundations increased their overall giving by 124%, grant dollars to HBCUs declined by 30%. The number of large foundations awarding grants to HBCUs also decreased during this time.
2. The average Ivy League school received 178 times more funding than the average HBCU
To understand the philanthropic funding disparities HBCUs face, we examined funding to Ivy League schools as a proxy measure of philanthropic funding capacity. In other words, the amount of money donated to the Ivy Leagues suggests a ballpark figure for how much funding is available to higher education in general. Ivy League schools received a combined $5.5 billion in philanthropic dollars from 2015 to 2019, compared with HBCUs’ $303 million.
For a more “apples to apples” funding comparison, we also examined foundation funding to higher education institutions with similar attributes to HBCUs along five key dimensions: size, geographic region, institution type, locale, and specialization. Even by this comparison, HBCUs were underfunded: The average HBCU received about two-thirds of what philanthropy paid out to similarly situated institutions.
3. HBCUs received less general operating support than other higher education institutions
General operating support is invaluable to grant recipients. This form of funding allows institutions to have the flexibility and decision-making power to achieve their goals, rather than needing to allocate grant dollars based on funder priorities. Because of this, general operating support is seen as a measure of funder trust in grantee organizations. Foundations tended to award proportionately fewer grant dollars as general operating support to historically Black colleges and universities compared to Ivy League and similarly situated institutions.
This trend, however, was reversed in 2018 and 2019, when the proportion of general operating support funding increased significantly for HBCUs but not for the other higher education institutions. This change was solely due to one large HBCU funder, The Duke Endowment, and affected only one HBCU, Johnson C. Smith University, with whom The Duke Endowment had a longstanding relationship. This increase, therefore, does not reflect philanthropic trends to the broader HBCU community.
4. 2020 saw increased funding to HBCUs, but the sustainability of this funding is in question
Early indicators demonstrate a sizable increase in HBCU foundation funding in 2020, currently totaling $249 million. By comparison, funding to HBCUs averaged $61 million from 2015 through 2019. It should be noted, however, that 2020 data collection is still ongoing. In addition, the $249 million includes data sourced from news stories, and not all dollars may have been paid out.
HBCU staff who were interviewed for the qualitative research all noted that their respective institutions saw an uptick in philanthropic funding since 2020. But some expressed uncertainty about the long-term sustainability of this funding:
“A lot of foundations [and] a lot of corporations threw a lot of dollars, especially in the beginning of the pandemic after the George Floyd incident, behind diversity, equity, and inclusion. I just don’t think the trend will stay within two years.” –HBCU staff insight
5. Grants to HBCUs have deep, broad, and long-lasting impacts on society
HBCU staff and student participants in the qualitative research all highlighted that HBCUs’ history and legacy are rooted in creating safe spaces for Black scholars. In addition to providing a top-tier education, HBCUs accept and acknowledge students’ identities.
“[HBCU students are] in a learning environment that’s a safe, brave, and encouraging space for them to be fully who they are.” –Foundation staff insight
HBCUs educate and support the largest number of Black professionals in fields, such as medicine, law, and engineering. These institutions’ alumni have been leaders in important racial justice movements, including the civil rights movement, the anti-apartheid movement, and Black Lives Matter. Qualitative insights from foundation staff affirm HBCUs’ unique role as centers of excellence and support in their communities, which benefit physically, socially, culturally, and economically from their presence. These schools are natural partners for foundations, whether in research, community engagement, or inclusive decision-making.
“When you educate an African American student, oftentimes you are improving the living standard for that entire household. It lifts the entire household when you educate one student. … It becomes a domino effect when you empower and live within this community [that then] impacts the global community.” –HBCU staff insight
In short, HBCUs add considerable value to society. Foundations looking to center equity in grantmaking and strengthen Black communities can find no better partner than an HBCU.