Claflin University achieves record-breaking fundraising and unparalleled alumni support.
Founded on the visionary idea of access to higher education for all people, Claflin University today boasts not only a world-class student experience but a top-notch fundraising shop. With data-driven strategy and careful relationship cultivation, Claflin exceeded a $96.4 million campaign goal.
In addition to its visionary history, state-of-the-art facilities, and close-knit community, Claflin University holds another important distinction: the highest annual alumni giving rate among all historically black colleges and universities at an impressive 53%.
Claflin’s culture shift happened both intentionally and gradually, with investment in resources and commitment from leaders. The Rev. Whittaker Middleton, who joined the private South Carolina university in 1973, became its first vice president for institutional advancement in 1982.
Before then, Claflin not only didn’t have a fundraising office; the school simply didn’t fundraise outside of the church. Alumni spanning over a century of school history had only contributed $15,000 to Claflin collectively.
Middleton remembers the files—thousands of them, where he and colleagues wrote out notes about donors and prospects. When the team migrated to digital records in the mid-1990s, they moved those files to the attic.
“It became so heavy that an architect said we have to move them out of there, because it was affecting the building’s foundation,” Middleton remembered. “Everything was manual then, and we weren’t able to capture as much information or have continuity when staff changed. We only thought it was working, because we didn’t know anything else.”
Decades later, in 2016, Claflin completed its largest capital campaign in school history, raising $108 million on the heels of an economic recession. Consultants had advised against the school’s $96.4 million goal, but Claflin leaders knew they could find ample support—and knew they had the tools to do it.
“One of the smarter things I’ll leave here as part of my legacy was the purchase of Blackbaud’s fundraising solution,” Middleton said. “I saw the writing on the wall. Ours was the first office on campus to have a computer at all, but there was no donor base and no way of communicating.”