Eyewitness to excellence: a portraiture study of one African American female’s fundraising strategies in an urban community college



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The study examined the fundraising strategies of one African American female president at an urban community college. Despite the important role community colleges play in higher education, meaningful research focusing on the role of the president in a college’s fundraising efforts has been limited. Fundraising in the community college has become a critical component of fiscal leadership for community college leaders. Research on women in fundraising is also limited; studies that exist simply confirm a gender gap persists in both salary and leadership positions in fundraising, even as women outnumber men by a ratio of three-to-one in the profession overall. Research has also lacked a unified framework for identifying successful funding strategies for community college presidents. This area remains largely neglected, thus presenting a major gap in information that can be used to develop a general framework for understanding the fundraising strategies of community college presidents. Five research questions guided this investigation: 1) How did the participants describe Jerry Sue Thornton’s leadership preparation? 2) How did the participants describe Jerry Sue Thornton’s experiences as a president in the selected urban community college? 3) How did the participants perceive the interplay of fundraising efforts and Jerry Sue Thornton’s other presidential duties and responsibilities? 4) How did the participants describe Jerry Sue Thornton’s fundraising strategies? and 5) How did the participants perceive race and gender as factors contributing to Jerry Sue Thornton’s success in the fundraising world? This qualitative study used portraiture as the research methodology. Portraiture bridges science and art, which merges the systematic and careful description of good ethnography with the suggestive significance of fine literature. The researcher’s selection of portraiture as the methodology exists as a way to merge the art and science of storytelling, which are skills from a career of history, genealogical research, and storytelling. The findings suggest that Jerry Sue Thornton’s major fundraising strategies included: 1) Building internal and external relationships; 2) Getting to know major fundraisers in the community; 3) Implemented an aggressive marketing and advertising campaign to tout the mission and vision of the institution; 4) Targeted request of donors to address funding gaps for students, facilities, programs; 5) Facilitated aggressive grassroots fundraising and donor campaigns; 6) Leveraged celebrity-endorsed relationships by hosting a major fundraising event; 7) Engaged to forge strong relationships with business and corporations; 8) Engaged alumni and other past donors; 9) Engaged community partners while incentivizing top donors; 10) Exercised judicial prudence; 11) Established donor recognition programs; 12) Increased workplace giving and student participation in fundraising events; 13) Developed solid long-range fundraising goals; 14) Cultivated donor stewardship programs; and 15) Created opportunities to connect donors to the institution through stories. Based on the qualitative analysis of the responses from the participants and the document analysis, it can be concluded that Jerry Sue Thornton developed several strategies to achieve fundraising success as president of an urban community college. Leadership preparation made a difference, hard work and relationship building was essential for fundraising, she was strategic in her leadership approach and the interplay of her fundraising duties, partnership played a key role in her effective fundraising. Jerry Sue Thornton exemplifies a 20th century African American leader with fundraising success in higher education based on her own merits. Thornton’s success projects a sense of hope for the future of fundraising in the community college as they secure financial well-being.



African American female, Philanthropy, Fundraising strategies, Community college fundraising, Portraiture, CASE and Indiana Framework

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Doctor of Education


Department of Educational Leadership

Major Professor

Christine Johnson McPhail