Fundraising Strategies for Community Colleges

If you were asked to describe community colleges, the word “entrepreneurial” probably wouldn’t be one of the first things to come to mind. That may be changing. As the traditional avenues for funding decrease and expenses increase, community colleges are turning to innovative fundraising strategies to support everything from student scholarships to program development.

Community colleges are becoming the United States’ newest entrepreneurial organization, according to Dr.Tony Zeiss, president of Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), the largest college in North Carolina serving approximately 70,000 students per year across six campuses.

“We’re not sacrificing instruction quality by becoming entrepreneurial, we’re ensuring it,” says Zeiss.

In the online seminar, Resource Development for Community Colleges, Zeiss encouraged participants to create a culture of entrepreneurialism and provided specific examples of how to maximize primary and alternative revenue sources. Whether it is building relationships with the power brokers in your state or local governments or leveraging special appropriations and other federal funds, there are a number of creative ways to find people who will champion your cause, he says. This is where it’s helpful to have access to knowledgeable government relations professionals and grant writers.

In the private sector, it’s important to reach out to potential partners by demonstrating your relevance to their business and the community as a whole. Begging doesn’t work, Zeiss cautions, providing value through a mutually beneficial relationship does.

Contract training is another good source for revenue, as illustrated by the fact that even four-year schools now are looking to get a piece of the workforce development pie that traditionally has fallen under the sole purview of community colleges. Lifelong learning programs aimed at baby boomers are also gaining steam.

One of the biggest challenges of moving to an entrepreneurial culture is to get faculty and staff to embrace change, according to Zeiss.

“A lot of academics say, ‘Well, I’m not an entrepreneur,’” he says. “Yes, you are. Any time you’ve taught, you’re a bit of an entrepreneur because you’re selling your ideas or you’re selling your concepts or you’re selling whatever it is that you’re teaching. We just have to learn to take the next step and learn how to better sell our colleges and its needs, so that people and organizations will help us.”