“Mr. Deeds” and UNCF: The Real Story

A message to "Fast Company"

In response to the Joe Berkowitz article, How an Adam Sandler movie may have briefly tanked the United Negro College Fund’s donations,  could it be possible that the 2002 film, “Mr. Deeds,” caused donations to UNCF to decline—merely because the fictional character donated a fictional $40 billion to the organization? The answer: Maybe, but highly unlikely, especially in light of the economic aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Nonprofits on the whole struggled for the intervening years after the terrorist attacks and the start of the Iraq War. Did and does UNCF still need funds to provide scholarships and programming to students and its member historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)? Absolutely. Has UNCF received a $40 BILLION gift!? Not yet, but if you want to help us find it, we and the thousands we serve would certainly be grateful.

Please set the record straight. Let me assure you we need as many donations as possible—the college funding gap only continues to get bigger. UNCF, which is the nation’s largest scholarship provider to students of color and was founded on the principle of providing equal access to higher education, has always held true to its motto—A mind is a terrible thing to waste®—over time, raising $5 billion to help more than half a million students graduate from college. UNCF annually awards 10,000 scholarships—$100 million a year—to deserving, students, often the first in their families to go to college, but the need well outstrips current donations. UNCF can only help one out of every 10 students who apply for scholarship assistance because of insufficient funding.

What “Mr. Deeds” and Mr. Berkowitz reference is largely fiction. The true stories are Mr. Koch, Mr. Smith, Mr. Hart and Mr. Lilly.

  Charles Koch and his foundation have donated more than $35 million to help nearly 600 students earn college degrees and learn about self-sufficiency and business leadership through entrepreneurship. This innovative program is the UNCF/Koch Scholars Program.

  Robert Smith, the billionaire philanthropist, created the $48 million UNCF STEM Scholars Program that will invest in more than 500 African American students and help them earn degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—the future of American innovation and productivity. (Forbes Big Bet Philanthropy 2017)

  Comedian Kevin Hart has invested his skills as an actor to support UNCF not only through appearances at our fundraising events, but also by donating $600,000 to help students through The Help from the Hart Charity Scholarship to attend HBCUs.

  Lilly Endowment funded the $50 million UNCF Career Pathways Initiative, an innovative HBCU-capacity building program to ensure better career placement opportunities for graduates of HBCUs and other predominantly black institutions. (Forbes Big Bet Philanthropy 2016)

Why UNCF and HBCUs are more Relevant than Ever

Because there are more and more students seeking a college education, especially those from economically disadvantaged families who want to close generational wealth gaps. Because there are first-generation college students who don’t have access to funding or other support for a higher education. Because a college degree is critical to 21st century America’s competitiveness and growth. These are the reasons UNCF’s impact is more relevant than ever.

  • Each year, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students across 1,100 colleges
  • UNCF administers more than 400 scholarship, fellowship, internship and faculty development programs, working with donors and partners to make students’ dreams reality. UNCF scholarship recipients graduate a significantly higher rate than their non-funded African American counterparts and all college students in general (70% vs. 40% and 60%, respectively)
  • UNCF has been successful in its efforts to advance HBCUs with Congress and the Administration, leading to a $100 million federal increase in 2019 benefitting HBCUs
  • UNCF is the leading advocate for HBCUS and raises funds to provide operating support to a core membership of 37 private historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)
  • Despite representing only 3% of the nation’s colleges and universities, HBCUs enroll almost 10% of all African American undergraduates and award 17% of all bachelor’s degrees received by African American students. HBCUs award 24% of all bachelor’s degrees received by African Americans in STEM fields
  • In 2014 HBCUs had an almost $15 billion economic impact on the nation’s economy, provided over 134,000 jobs and the over 50,000 graduates will continue to fuel the economy for decades to come and can expect to earn over $130B in their lifetimes.

Let your readers know the truth is we’d welcome their support and investment in the vital and important work of UNCF. We’re always looking for new avenues to help educate and inspire Americans to amplify our impact. Perhaps, Fast Company would entertain a new approach and spotlight the young innovators at UNCF leading this important work and hire our talented HBCU communications, business or technology students as interns instead of posting something that’s entirely conjecture and doesn’t help this important cause.

Think it over and give us a call. Now, that’s the kind of true, good news story we’d welcome any day.