Pushing through a Pandemic—And Reaping the Rewards
A Message from the Chairman of the Board and the President and CEO
Welcome to UNCF’s 2021 fiscal year Annual Report. And quite the year it was. As the newest chairman of the UNCF Board of Directors, I am pleased to present this annual report with UNCF President and CEO Dr. Michael L. Lomax. We write this letter amid some of the most challenging times in our 77-year history—yet one of our most successful years ever.
2021 was tumultuous on a range of fronts for the Black community, students and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). However, our commitment to those we serve never wavered. We were forced to adapt quickly and innovate to ensure we had the resources to support our mission of ensuring as many talented, deserving students get to and through college as possible.
The onset of COVID-19 forced UNCF to suspend our in-person fundraising, close all our offices and transition to a virtual workplace. UNCF had very thin reserves—just months of operating funds—so we also had to develop a worst-case contingency. Instead of the $100 million we had expected to raise in our fiscal year beginning April 1, 2020, we scaled back our target to one-half that number. We reduced our operating expenses by one-third and cut all employee salaries so we could retain everyone that works for this organization.
Even with these cutbacks, we understood fundraising was imperative to get UNCF on sustainable footing. We quickly saw results, particularly from our large base of donors who responded to direct mail and online solicitations. Our donors understood that Black students and HBCUs faced large economic and health risks from COVID-19. The steady flow of gifts in April and May supported our continued operation.
By recognizing the importance of UNCF, HBCUs and education, our donors—both Black and White—pushed fundraising beyond our wildest expectations and sparked a historic groundswell of financial support.
Patty Quillin and Reed Hastings provided a $120 million gift—the single largest philanthropic investment in HBCU history at that time—to UNCF, Spelman College and Morehouse College. This gift set a precedent for giving to HBCUs, encouraging other donors to follow their lead. MacKenzie Scott, Bloomberg Philanthropies and others stepped up to help us keep HBCUs open to serve their students during one of the most difficult periods any of us have ever faced in our lifetimes.
When we closed our books on March 31, 2021, we had raised more than one-quarter of a billion dollars in private philanthropic support, the largest amount we ever secured in a single year. Direct mail and online fundraising were extraordinary. UNCF’s Direct Response Program alone generated $18.9 million in revenue—nearly 2.5 times the revenue we received in the previous year.
This incredible generosity enabled us to increase both unrestricted and scholarship dollars for our HBCUs and their students. Our more than 77 years of success wouldn’t be possible without the support of the many corporate donors who really put their belief in us to work—donors like Crown Castle, 3M and Synovus Financial Corp. Along with the billions of dollars for which we successfully advocated in the bipartisan federal stimulus programs of the Trump-Pence and Biden-Harris administrations, this bold influx of funds has helped HBCUs weather the disruptions cause by both the on-going health and racial pandemics.
Yet, we still have much work to do. One record-setting year of fundraising does not erase decades of neglect. Despite the challenges facing our students and HBCUs in 2021, thanks to you, our loyal supporters, partners and donors, UNCF remains steadfast. This annual report highlights several of the amazing accomplishments we achieved.
As you peruse this report, you’ll read stories about how we launched an Executive Leadership Institute to increase engagement, knowledge-sharing and collaboration among our UNCF-member presidents, HBCU board members and those leading predominantly Black institutions. Learn how we continued a 15-year partnership with Alaska Airlines and unveiled a special aircraft symbolizing their support of UNCF and commitment to education and advancing racial equality, while flying students to HBCUs for college tours, career development events and other UNCF programs. Discover how we partnered with the CVS Health Foundation to establish scholarships for Black and Latinx students pursuing healthcare careers, and how Activision Blizzard stepped up to help us diversify the video gaming industry.
We’re also featuring Dillard University President Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough and Chair of the Member Presidents in a story about his innovative leadership.
We’re especially grateful to brand marketing expert Tony Signore, CEO and managing partner at Taylor, for his passionate support of UNCF and HBCUs for over a decade. And a special shout out to DJ D-Nice whose Club Quarantine helped raise funds in 2021 during the pandemic for our member colleges and universities and their students.
As you read through the articles within this Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report, know that the investment of your talent, time and treasure is well-placed and valued because we are using all of it to develop the future generation of diverse, American college-educated talent to lead us all to better futures.
Before closing, we would be remiss not to pay homage to three American icons we lost who were gigantic supporters of UNCF and the betterment of HBCUs: Congressman and lifetime civil rights champion of underserved individuals and HBCU students, John Lewis; former UNCF executive director, business trailblazer, civil rights leader and adviser to presidents, Vernon Jordan; and Hall of Fame baseball legend “Hammering” Hank Aaron. We will always remember their exemplary contributions to our mission.
Finally, whether you’ve invested in UNCF’s schools and students for years, or this is the first time you’re considering joining us, let our more than 77 years of success inspire you to make our indelible motto, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”®, your own.