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NSU Receives $40 Million Gift

by Gail Kent -

Norfolk State has received a $40 million gift, the largest single-donor gift in its 85-year history, from MacKenzie Scott, philanthropist and novelist.

The reaction at NSU has been jubilation, says Vice President of University Advancement Clifford Porter. “Everyone has been extremely excited. It’s a testament to the work that has been done at Norfolk State and a signal that we’re moving in the right direction.”

He says receiving a gift this size with no restrictions on its use is a “seal of approval that Norfolk State is not just a great HBCU, but that it’s a great institution and has been run properly.”

The gift will be a catalyst for future fundraising, too, he says. “When you get a gift like this, it brings attention to you. We’re going to be announcing other seven-figure gifts soon.”

“We are pleased to receive this level of support for transforming the curious thoughts of our students into the brightest minds of our world,” says NSU President Javaune Adams-Gaston.

All of the gift, either directly or indirectly, will benefit students. About $15 million will bolster the University’s relatively small, $39 million endowment to support scholarships. “One of our major challenges is not that our students don’t achieve academically, it’s that they cannot afford to go to the institution, so a lot of our numbers have been impacted by the inability to pay,” Porter says.

“We will put this money in a special scholarship endowment, and it will be spread out among several different programs, including need-based scholarships.”

Other uses for the gift include expanding the campus, creating an Institutional Excellence Fund to help faculty and staff acquire grants requiring matching funds from the University, and supporting economic development opportunities.

These will include public/private ventures supported by faculty research, such as the McDemmond Center for Applied Research, a 136,000-square-foot facility that houses advanced research in computational science, engineering, information assurance and materials science. The center is home to one of the highest rated “clean room” research facilities on the Eastern Seaboard.

“We didn’t know at the time how much the gift would be, and when we found out, the president and I were trying to decide who was going to pass out first,” Porter says with a laugh.

Before the donation, Scott, the wealthiest woman in the country and the 12th wealthiest in the world, evaluated a list of several thousand charities across the country. Porter says Norfolk State officials knew NSU was under consideration when Scott’s team contacted them asking a series of questions. The team contacted the University about a month later in December with the good news.

“We didn’t know at the time how much the gift would be, and when we found out, the president and I were trying to decide who was going to pass out first,” Porter says with a laugh.

Scott gave gifts totaling $410 million to HBCUs across the country in December alone, adding to the nearly $6 billion she gave away in all of 2020, all of it without strings attached. Scott has become one of the most generous philanthropists in the country.

The gift is helping prepare Norfolk State for an upcoming capitol campaign, says Porter, who assumed his position less than a year ago. “The University has only had one capital campaign and that was almost 30 years ago. As I was coming in the door, the president asked me to consider doing a capital campaign and how to structure it.”

The main purposes of the campaign will be to build the endowment so that it will yield enough to fund every scholarship the University gives and to provide funds to offset emergencies, such as the impact COVID-19 has had on campus.