Washington — The United Negro College Fund has a new message for potential donors: Think of students as investments.
That’s the focus of the UNCF’s latest advertising campaign, which was unveiled on Friday at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters here and will soon roll out nationwide, as the group tries to tailor its classic brand to attract younger, wealthier donors at a time of lagging college-attainment numbers for minority students.
The UNCF, one of the 150 largest philanthropies in the country, now has slightly longer take on its well-known slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” The updated version: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in.”
The new campaign’s message is straightforward. Public-service announcements unveiled on Friday feature stories of real students who speak about their college aspirations. “My name is Sidney, and I am your dividend,” one young woman says, holding up a stock-market ticker that reads “social change.”
Michael L. Lomax, president and chief executive of the UNCF, said the group wanted to underline the concept that giving for scholarships is an investment, not just a donation.
“We have to cut through a lot of clutter. This is a little edgy, a little provocative, and hopefully it will get a lot of attention,” Mr. Lomax said in an interview. “We think it’s smart, and the right way to talk about things. We think it’s contemporary.”
And the UNCF, which pulls in $150-million to $160-million a year in donations, aims to expand its 300,000-donor base to hand out more scholarships and grants to minority students, especially as college costs rise and many historically black colleges and universities face financial struggles.
Though the percentage of Americans with college credentials has inched up over all lately, according to a recent report from the Lumina Foundation, the proportion of younger African-Americans and Hispanics who have earned degrees is smaller than the share of the population at large that has done so.
At the UNCF event on Friday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stressed that the country had to “double down” on increasing access to higher education for minority students and fostering their completion of college as well, not sit back.
“There’s a sense of hope, a sense of movement. But you step back and measure, and you see how far we still have to go. Dropout rates are still unacceptably high,” he said. “If you think we’re anywhere near where we need to be, that’s an absolute fallacy.”
The UNCF is going to great lengths to show donors that their contributions have serious returns. In the four years the organization spent developing the campaign, alongside the advertising agency Y&R and the nonprofit Advertising Council, economists developed formulas to show donors how money spent on students leads to lower crime rates and improved public health.
Their study showed that $10 invested in education for African-American students today will produce $102 worth of benefits for society. Other statistics tout that a $5,000 UNCF scholarship increases a student’s likelihood of graduating by nearly nine percentage points.
“Donors want to know they’re making a difference,” Heidi Arthur, senior vice president of the Advertising Council, said in an interview.
But at the heart of the campaign are stories. Jarrett L. Carter Sr., executive director of the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, said the stories could help draw in a wider swath of donors. The UNCF, Mr. Carter said, is “really starting to make a push toward telling more stories, telling the stories of institutions and students, even in the face of limited funding and public support.”