Historic $100M Grant to UNCF Boosts HBCU Endowments

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The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) recently received a $100 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., marking the largest unrestricted private donation in the organization’s history. The funds will contribute to UNCF’s $1 billion capital campaign, which encompasses various initiatives, including the creation of a pooled endowment fund specifically for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“Rising tides do lift all boats and UNCF is committed to making this a reality because 100 percent of this grant will be used to enhance the endowments at our 37 member colleges and universities,” said UNCF president and CEO Michael L. Lomax in a statement.

The pooling of endowments is anticipated to offer several advantages for member HBCUs, including broader investment opportunities and enhanced financial security. According to UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, the initiative is projected to raise the median endowment for member institutions from $15.9 million to $25.9 million.

UNCF plans to raise $185 million total to support the campaign, allocating $5 million to each of its member institutions. These institutions will then match this amount through their individual fundraising campaigns.

The initiative ultimately intends to narrow the endowment gap between HBCUs and non-HBCUs. According to a 2020 report by the Brookings Institution, the 10 largest HBCU endowments totaled just $2 billion, compared to $200 billion across the top predominantly White institutions.

“This grant from Lilly Endowment is far-reaching and long-lasting. It will change the financial trajectory of many HBCUs for many years to come,” said Marc Barnes, senior vice president of the UNCF capital campaign, in a statement. “Our commitment is to generate philanthropic funding to not just increase scholarships but also strengthen HBCUs, raise graduation rates, ensure greater economic mobility and grow endowments at all our 37 member HBCUs.”