As the largest minority scholarship organization in the country (second only to the federal government), funding has always been key for UNCF. This philanthropic organization funds scholarships for minority students and provides operating support for 37 private HBCUs. UNCF institutions and other historically black colleges and universities have awarded nearly 20 percent of African American baccalaureate degrees.
UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at more than 1,100 colleges and universities across the country by awarding more than 10,000 scholarships worth more than $100 million and through more than 400 scholarship programs. To date, UNCF has raised approximately $15 billion to serve and allow minority and low-income students the chance to gain a higher education.
“All HBCUs are allotted $85 million each year in mandatory funding by Congress in the Higher Education Act to assist these institutions and provide support for students that are traditionally low-income and underrepresented,” says Emmanual A. Guillory, director of public policy and government affairs for UNCF.
These funds were set to expire on Sept. 30, 2019, unless Congress could pass a sweeping bipartisan bill known as the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act.
“The bill needed to be signed into law to allow our institutions continued access to mandatory funding,” says Guillory. “After trying to ensure the bill’s passage behind closed doors on the Hill and receiving pushback, I knew that we needed to do more to move the needle and that is when I proposed we launch our first grassroots campaign.”
Guillory and his team needed to launch a first-of-its-kind grassroots campaign that could activate their members and the public. The ultimate goal: show enough support to get the vital funding from the federal government for HBCUs, Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) before the clock ran out.
FiscalNote’s Advocacy Suite Helped Send Over 65,000 Letters and Phone Calls in Support of the FUTURE Act
To be able to pull together a grassroots campaign of this size before funding expired, UNCF needed a tool that would allow them to reach out to elected officials that had the power to move this legislation forward. “We are so thankful to have worked with FiscalNote who played such a key role in the success of the campaign,” said Guillory. “We knew that the only way we could really make a difference, and make this a priority for Members, was for them to hear directly from their own constituents and to have their constituents say, ‘We need this. This is important to us,’” says Guillory.
UNCF turned to FiscalNote’s powerful online advocacy tools to reach out to their membership and the public in one unified message: calling for their support to reach out to elected officials and pressure Congress to move this legislation forward.
“The most important thing about the success of this campaign was that there was a unified message across the higher education space,” says Guillory. “If there was one messaging failure, we would’ve lost all credibility.”
To stay on message, UNCF was able to create targeted lists; send highly relevant, personalized messages that they were able to craft and tailor in-house; and develop an action center to keep their supporters updated on important news surrounding the bill, including social media activities.
FiscalNote’s advocacy solutions allowed for UNCF’s member institutions and constituents to simply attach their name to templatized messages that would be sent to Congress letting their representatives know how important securing funding was. Each letter could be tailored to the recipient and was able to be edited by the advocate, giving each person the flexibility to personalize their message even further.
In Congress, UNCF was able to get Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Doug Jones (D-AL) to lead the bill and Representatives Alma Adams (D-NC) and Mark Walker (R-NC) on the House side. On September 17, the House passed UNCF’s landmark legislation prompting it to be sent over to the Senate. On December 5, the Senate side passed a different version of the FUTURE Act sending it back to the House.
After much back and forth, and the mounting pressure from UNCF’s constituents who had sent over 62,000 letters and made over 2,000 phone calls, a bipartisan solution was passed by both the House and the Senate to send it over to the White House for signing on December 10. The FUTURE Act was signed into law on December 19, extending mandatory funding for HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs, and other MSIs at the level of $255 million, combined. Of that total, $85 million will go to HBCUs every year forever. This funding will continue to strengthen STEM education for minority students and prepare them for the jobs of the future. Additionally, the bill eases the burdens on first-generation, low-income college students by simplifying the process of applying for student financial aid.
What initially began as a way to extend funding for two years became permanent for HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs, and other MSIs. For UNCF, FiscalNote made it easy for people to get involved and overcome the hurdles of knowing who to reach out to and how to do it effectively.
“Without FiscalNote’s advocacy tools, we would not have been able to get our message out. Our members and the public could make their voices heard in 30 seconds,” says Guillory. “We would not have had the same response rate if it wasn’t for how easy it was.”
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