Spelman College caps capital campaign at $339 million

The Atlanta HBCU exceeds its initial $250 million fundraising goal
Spelman College President Dr. Helene Gayle listens to Atlanta Journal-Constitution Opinion Editor Andre Jackson during a meeting with AJC reporters and editors on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. (Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Spelman College President Dr. Helene Gayle listens to Atlanta Journal-Constitution Opinion Editor Andre Jackson during a meeting with AJC reporters and editors on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. (Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

In 2017, when Spelman College launched one of the biggest capital campaigns in Black college history, the goal was an ambitious, but modest, $250 million.

On Tuesday, Spelman’s new president Dr. Helene Gayle, said the school has blazed past that goal.

The Ascends Campaign, the largest comprehensive campaign in the college’s history, has raised $339 million to cover student fees, improve technological infrastructure, build the Center for Innovation & Arts, and expand various initiatives across campus.

Evoking the old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child, Gayle — joined in a virtual celebration by her predecessor Mary Schmidt Campbell and board chair Rosalind Brewer — praised the entire Spelman community for what she called a historic achievement.

“That is exactly what the Spelman community is,” Gayle said. “It is a true village. A village of love, a village of sisterhood.”

When Spelman “officially” announced the campaign in 2021, the school had already raised $240 million during the silent phase from corporations like the Coca-Cola Foundation, ExxonMobil Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Spelman soon surpassed its goal.

Among its current fundraising priorities, Spelman wants to bring in an additional $70 million to enhance scholarships, launch a summer bridge program that will include a partnership with Atlanta Public Schools, renovate its Rockefeller Fine Arts Building and create an endowment for a planned innovation and arts center.

Spelman has seen its average fundraising totals go from $18 million a year between 2015-2017 to $54 million a year since, school officials said.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities like Spelman have seen an increase in donations, particularly from major companies since the nationwide protests that followed the George Floyd killing in May 2020. Spelman received a $40 million gift from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife, philanthropist Patty Quillin, that summer.

Spelman students take photos as influencers Rickey Thompson and Denzel Dion take the stage during Spelman Creator Day at the Wellness Center Gymnasium at Spelman College, Monday, March 20, 2023, in Atlanta. Creator Day is an audio event including influencers Rickey Thompson, Denzel Dion, and Wunmi Bello. Spelman is the first HBCU to partner with Spotify for its NextGen program. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Spelman has also seen an influx of financial support from former students. More than 12,160 Spelman alumnae donated about $25 million. Spelman reported that 17,000 unique donors contributed to the capital campaign.

Campbell, who was president when the campaign started and retired last year, said the central inspiration of it was the Spelman student body, whom she called “visionaries.”

Priscilla Chan, wife of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Mary Schmidt Campbell (left), president of Spelman College, share a laugh at Spelman College’s Cosby Auditorium on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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“We had to be prepared to do whatever it took to make sure that our students were going to be competitive in a 21st-century workforce,” she said. “All of those things drove that strategic plan that we created.”

Spelman’s Center for Innovation & the Arts, will be funded out of the campaign. It’s the first new building on campus in more than 25 years and will be named after Campbell.

August 10, 2022 Atlanta - Spelman College freshman and roommates Sydney Dinkins (left) and Jashonti Wilson, both Health Science and pre-med major, pose at Spelman College on Wednesday, August 10, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Spelman is not alone in the quest to raise funds at HBCUs. Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Morehouse School of Medicine each have capital campaigns.

Sitting on a $570 million endowment, as of June 2021, Spelman is one of the richest HBCUs in the country, but still trails other elite women’s colleges like Mount Holyoke, Smith and Wellesley colleges, which have endowments in the billions.

Oprah Winfrey hugs Rosalind D. Brewer, Spelman class of 1984, during Spelman's 2012 Commencement. AJC file photo/Bita Honarvar

Credit: Jennifer Brett

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Credit: Jennifer Brett

“We need this for long-term investment,” Brewer said. “We do a fine job of managing the day-to-day, but this is something different when you can come together and align the resources that you need to fulfill your strategy through long-term growth. This is a fantastic time for us to think about what the college needs next.”

At the end of the announcement, Gayle popped a bottle of champagne.