“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” – Alan Lakein
Far too many HBCU Alumni Associations and Chapters have been asleep at the wheel for far too long financially. They have conducted themselves like a child who says they want to start a lemonade stand, but refuses to take the time to make a plan of acquiring lemons, sugar, water, and certainly not building a lemonade stand. There is more time spent playing with their friends and then seemingly complaining that their friends do not support their lemonade stand – that does not exist. It is enough to drive one mad. We have laid out twelve steps that HBCU alumni associations and chapters need to do to make themselves financially integral and sustainable for the future to meet the financial needs of both African America and the HBCUs they serve.
- Move banking accounts to African American owned banks and/or credit unions. It is utterly baffling that HBCUs and HBCU Alumni Associations/Chapters at this point still have not done this very elementary point of economic development given the acute presence of the #BankBlack movement over the past few years. Public HBCUs have more red tape by being state institutions and there are significant political dynamics at play there, but private HBCUs and HBCU alumni associations/chapters at private or public HBCUs at this point simply have no excuse.
- Invest in technology, especially financial technology. If HBCU Alumni Associations/Chapters want younger alumni involvement as they claim then they have to come into the 21st century – do you realize we are two decades into the 21st century and some HBCU foundations, alumni associations/chapters do not have a functioning web presence. This is where typically you would insert a mind blown emoji or gif. It is unfathomable and inexcusable at this point. HBCU Alumni Associations/Chapters need a web and social media presence independent of the mother institution for a myriad of reasons that should be readily apparent without great explanation. Alumni associations/chapters can work out an agreement with their schools to create work study that involves social media work and web development for those students who are interested and have the necessary skillset. Otherwise, spend the money and pay for a real web designer and social media manager – it is worth it. Financial technology – accepting payment by Venmo, CashApp, etc. should not be groundbreaking it should be standard. There are a plethora of financial technology available for nonprofit organizations. This should be the job of the treasurer at both the national and chapter levels to find technology that can improve the financial efficiency.
- Collect information on your members. Know your association/chapters strengths and weaknesses. If you plan on doing education outreach with your alumni association/chapter, it may help knowing who in the organization that has a background and connections in education. Need to put on an event? It may help to know the alumnus who worked in event planning or knows someone who does. Other information should be household income, level of education, home ownership, etc. The more information the better (we will explain the value of this in another point). But not knowing what assets you have is a dearth of proper planning and strategy.
- Write a business plan. If you do not know where you are going, any road will get you there. This opaque behavior is stressfully true with HBCU Alumni Associations/Chapters. We have an alumni association/chapter, now what? Having a written plan of what you want to accomplish, why, and how is paramount to any organization. HBCU Alumni Associations/Chapters are no different. The business plan should be reviewed and updated every 3-4 years to ensure that goals are on track . A review committee made up of internal and external members would be advised.
- Create a revenue and investment committee. These can be one committee or two committees, but it needs to exist. Beyond dues, how does the association/chapter plan to make money? Thinking of ways that revenue can be generated and those ideas presented to the association and chapter would be vital. Seriously, because have we not killed the annual golf tournament? Someone on this committee needs to have an investment background and if there is no one in the chapter with it, then invite a local financial adviser to sit on the committee in a volunteer role to help.
- Raise dues. There was just a collective gasp from everyone just now. However, creativity. Right now, most associations/chapters charge annual dues of $25-35 annually. Going to a monthly model of $5-10 can skyrocket annual dues revenue to $60-120 which is an increase of over 100 percent in dues revenue and it is an amount that few will miss. Implementing financial technology can allow this to be automated around alumni pay periods.
- Produce a newsletter and sale local advertising. Remember the roster of your membership and the data we talked about collecting. This is extremely valuable in putting together a media kit that you can use to sell local advertising in. Most alumni associations/chapters send out newsletters anyway. The ability to monetize that in the most optimal way requires being able to tell potential advertisers who they are reaching. Imagine being able to simply sell ten advertisements a year with twelve month commitments that each pay $50 per month. This is $6,000 in new annual revenue for the chapter from local businesses and relationship building.
- Hire a financial adviser. It can be the aforementioned one or a different one, but this also needs to be done. Associations/Chapters should be generating far more income than they do with the collective financial ability at their disposal. As an entity, your association/chapter can have a brokerage account that invest in stocks and bonds – not just sitting in a checking and savings account losing purchasing power. Ensure that the financial adviser is credible. There are even African American brokerage firms that can provide accounts and advising all under one roof. Again, we are not going to fundraise our way to institutional wealth. Our organizations’ money needs to be making money while it “sleeps” because money never sleeps.
- Purchase real estate. Now that you have a financial adviser, your chapter should also retain a real estate adviser to help build a rental property portfolio. Remember, we just created $6,000 in new annual revenue via the newsletter. You also raised dues from $25 to $60 and with the $35 surplus on a chapter of just twenty alumni that provides and extra $700 annually. In line with your investment income from your brokerage is also rental income. The association/chapter can focus on purchasing everything from single-family to commercial properties. If chapters purchased near their HBCU, it could help stem off any potential gentrification as many HBCUs are seeing, but in little position to do anything about. They could also purchase real estate locally where their chapter is located. This would provide the association/chapter another stream of revenue and diversified real estate holdings.
- Invest in African American small businesses. This could be done in conjunction with African American owned banks/credit unions. If a small business could not qualify for a SBA loan, then the chapter could work out a deal with the bank that would allow them to review the investment on the bank’s recommendation. The chapter would then either invest in the business with equity or provide a loan and act as a shadow lender. We know this is something desperately needed for many African American small businesses who are trying to grow and for some reason or another lack access to traditional financial products. Imagine a local African American kid comes to the bank with the next great social media company, but he needs $38,000 to get it going and does not qualify, but the bank says they have a program that may work to help him. The chapter invest the $38,000 for a 50 percent stake and acts as a passive investor while the kid builds his dream. Why $38,000? This is the amount Mark Zuckerberg and classmate Eduardo Saverin invested to get Facebook off the ground in 2004. A company now worth $840 billion and a 50 percent stake would be worth $420 billion – from a $38,000 investment. Not to mention the potential to secure jobs and internships for your HBCU’s students and alumni as the company grew.
- Endow internships at local organizations. HBCU alumni constantly complain about our students not having access to opportunity. Well, now with your new found financial wealth you can buy them access just like everyone else does for their community. The Museum of Natural Science in New York, Miami, Houston, etc. sure do appreciate that $100,000 donation your association/chapter gave them to hire a paid summer internship. The condition? That intern needs to come from your HBCU. Now, a student from your HBCU gets a paid summer internship, work experience in a field of their interest, and most importantly builds their professional network.
- Be transparent. Associations and chapters need to ensure that members feel like they know and understand what is going on. Part of this is improving the membership’s financial aptitude through financial literacy so that they understand the decisions being made on some level. Have a quarterly review of the financial portfolio and an annual audit. Trust is vital and for African American organizations that trust is built through transparency.
HBCU Alumni Associations & Chapters should be the symbol of group economics for African America. Instead, the actions have been more hat in hand with the rest of African American organizations who could, but do not leverage their capability. The infrastructure is there for HBCU Alumni Associations & Chapters to be financial forces if the proper financial strategy and plan is implemented. It is time to stop playing and start planning, there is a lemonade stand to build.