Black History Month celebrations are incomplete without a salute to nationally recognized fundraiser Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson, founder of the United Negro College Fund. Named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Patterson was committed not only to fundraising but to collective fundraising that has changed the lives of generations of African-Americans.
Born in 1901, orphaned at age 2, and raised by his sister, Patterson earned a teaching certificate from Prairie View Normal and Industrial Institute in Texas by age 14; and a doctorate in veterinary science by age 22 and a master of science degree by age 27 both from Iowa State University. At 32 he earned a second doctorate from Cornell University. At 34 he began his tenure as the third president of Tuskegee Institute, a position he held for 25 years. As president Patterson established the university’s School of Veterinary Science and continued the institute’s strong fundraising tradition begun by its founder Booker T. Washington. He also authored the weekly column The Southern Viewpoint published in the Pittsburgh Courier.
On Saturday Jan. 30, 1943, Patterson published his thoughts on the need for collective fundraising to benefit private black colleges with the title “Would it not be wise for some Negro schools to make joint appeals to public for funds?” And so it began. In 1944 Patterson founded the United Negro College Fund and launched the first national campaign to raise funds for 27 private, historically black colleges and universities from across the South serving 12,000 students with income of $765,000.
Fast forward to today and UNCF has raised more than $3.3 billion, almost $1.5 billion of which has been raised in the past decade alone, to enable more than 400,000 deserving students to earn the college degrees they want and need but might not otherwise be able to afford. The organization is ranked among the top 10 charitable organizations in the country by The Non-Profit Times and The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Patterson could have focused his energies on raising funds for Tuskegee. Instead he was unselfish in his commitment to access to higher education for African-Americans. In addition to founding UNCF Patterson founded the College Endowment Funding Plan for which he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. The CEFP raised over $60 million for 36 participating schools. He also served as president of the Phelps-Stokes Fund focused on African-Americans and higher education.
He had a vision for both fundraising and social financing that leveraged private and public funding. From the very beginning he encouraged African-Americans to give to HBCUs with his 1943 words “... such a campaign might well begin with Negro people of America.” It not only began, it continues.
Locally Lane College, The LeMoyne-Owen College, Rust College and their students have all benefited from Patterson’s life work. We salute Patterson, a visionary African-American fundraiser who created one of the most well-known and well-respected fundraising organizations in the United States of America.
Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “The Fundraisers Guide to Soliciting Gifts” now available at Amazon.com.