Fisk University has hired a season fundraiser, Dr. Sulayman Clark,as vice president for institutional development. Sulayman cut his teeth in fundraising at Hampton University and has helped Morehouse, Tuskegee, and most recently, North Carolina Central raise millions of dollars for their endowments.
Sulayman joined the Fisk staff in April of this year.
“[Clark] is a seasoned fund-raiser, somebody the [Fisk] president ought to pay attention to,” says Ted Easler, president and CEO of The Easler Group, a Georgia-based fund-raising consultant to colleges and universities. “I hear a lot about the sale of the artwork, but I don’t hear and read about them raising money by traditional means.”
Clark’s arrival is the first bold fund-raising move by President Hazel O’Leary beyond the proposed art sale. Most of her nearly three-year tenure has been focused on containing costs, halting the drain on the school’s endowment and selling the art as a part of Fisk’s long-term revival plan. The small but prestigious historically Black college was once considered one of the “Black Ivy League” universities in the United States.
“There’s no magic formula, and I have no pixie dust,” Clark says. “But I have every confidence we have all the tools we need. Fisk is, has been, and remains, a jewel.”
Clark, a Philadelphia native with a doctorate from Harvard University, says Fisk has pledged to make a “sizeable investment” in its historically underfunded development office, and he plans to have it “fully funded and fully staffed” within several months.
He adds that he has a “pretty aggressive fund-raising plan” to present to the Fisk board. Clark is not involved in the art sale controversy, and he says his work will remain independent of that process.
“Our salvation does not lie in that sale,” says Clark, whose specialty has been capital campaigns and scholarship endowments. “Our salvation is in expanding the resource base. Fisk is worthy of fresh investment, independent of the [art] collection process.”
Seasoned as he is at fund raising, Clark faces myriad challenges in trying to reverse Fisk’s fortunes.
On the home front, Fisk competes with a lengthy list of other colleges in the area, including Vanderbilt University and Belmont University. The two traditionally White private colleges are the primary beneficiaries of the region’s wealthy benefactors, including several who serve as Fisk trustees. Despite its deep roots in Nashville, Fisk has never shared in the city’s largesse.
“Nationally, Fisk is in a “catch-up mode” at a time when solicitations for money are skyrocketing.
Fisk’s endowment has shrunk to approximately $8 million, from a high of $30 million in the 1960s. By comparison, Hampton has accumulated an endowment in excess of $200 million. Howard University boasts an endowment of $443 million. Tiny Bennett College for Women has raised $25 million for its endowment since 2002.
Clark echoes those opinions. He emphasizes he is not a one-man-band and is confident that O’Leary, the Fisk trustees, faculty and staff will buy into and participate in a well thought out fund-raising plan.