Education Charity's Fresh Idea Brings Big Boost in Amount of Citigroup Award

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The Chronicle of Philanthropy (PCC)
By: Maureen West
July 24, 2011

UNCF (United Negro College Fund)

Benefactors: Citigroup and Citi Foundation

Amount awarded in 2010: $7.5-million for the Partnership for College Completion, a joint effort with the Corporation for Enterprise Development and the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP)

What the gift means for the charity: The gift makes up nearly 10 percent of the $78.6-million that UNCF raised last year.

How the charity won it: By presenting an innovative program idea. Michael L. Lomax, the Fairfax, Va., charity's chief executive, was attending a lecture at Harvard University in 2008 when a speaker's talk about the savings rates for low-income survivors of Hurricane Katrina sparked an epiphany. "This light went on," Mr. Lomax says. As a veteran educator, he had long been frustrated at how a lack of savings kept many students from low-income families out of college. Out of that moment came his big idea: offer young people and their families incentives to start college savings accounts.

Other steps to success: To help build the program, which came to be known as the Partnership for College Completion, he recruited two other organizations: the Corporation for Enterprise Development and the Knowledge Is Power Program, a national network of public charter schools. When parents open a college saving account for their kids, $100 is placed in the account and future contributions are matched dollar for dollar, up to $250 a year.

How it approached the company: UNCF has received support from the New York banking giant Citigroup for 35 years, but the money the company provided for the college-saving program was as much as it had ever given the fund overall.

The size of the latest gift came as something of a rolling snowball: Mr. Lomax originally asked Citi Foundation for $500,000, but the grant maker liked the idea enough to increase the award to $2.5-million. Then, after foundation officials told the story to colleagues at Citibank, the final grant was increased to $7.5-million.

Mr. Lomax's idea, and his alliance with two other groups that could move the program forward quickly, appealed to the bank. The approach also complemented the bank's goal of encouraging more minority families to open accounts.

"A longstanding relationship gets you in the door," Mr. Lomax says, "but we brought with us an idea that was a game changer."

Achievements so far: The Partnership for College Completion is now underway at schools in Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Washington. Building on Citibank's one-time grant, UNCF has started a campaign to attract new supporters to raise $7.5-million annually for the next four years.

Advice for fund raisers: Be willing to change with the times, Mr. Lomax says. "The donor environment has changed," he says. "We used to be the only group to help kids of color go to college, but we aren't anymore."

With Citibank, a new approach added a burst of energy, Mr. Lomax says. "It has turned a good relationship into a great one."

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