July 2021

Fundraising takes on critical role as Urban League prepares to build on momentum from the pandemic

Courtesy of Columbus Business First
By Hayleigh Colombo
July 6, 2021

There are no days off for the president of the Columbus Urban League. Stephanie Hightower says there’s simply too much to do.

It’s not uncommon for Hightower’s staff at the 103-year-old organization to be in the office late on weekdays or even on weekends.

Her team has been overloaded with partnership requests, grant applications, new programs to enact and speaking engagements since the onset of the pandemic, heightened by the racial justice protests and renewed calls for racial equity.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Hightower said.

Hightower said her organization has committed employees eager to enact more programs across the community to help uplift Black residents.

In just the past six months, the organization has:

Started a new partnership with the Chamber of Commerce to help Black-owned businesses.

Partnered with the city of Columbus to administer a program to provide $100 to residents for getting vaccinated against Covid-19.

Hosted vaccine clinics.

Started a new program to boost the earning power of Black women.

Launched a summer jobs program for low-income teens.

Launched a program to help Black-owned businesses get PPP loans.

Launched a grant program for businesses owned by minority-owned businesses with First Financial Bank.

But there’s so much more that could be accomplished, Hightower said. For example, one piece of low-hanging fruit, she said, is to help Columbus businesses who want to diversify their suppliers.

“You’ve seen our work for the last year on fumes,” Hightower said. “I would love for the business community to envision what we could do if we weren’t on fumes, but we were built up to the capacity to really make a difference. We could be doing so much more.”

The Columbus Urban League’s annual budget was just under $8 million in 2019. During 2020, the budget swelled to $15 million, but most of those funds were pass-throughs going directly to Covid-19-related grants, not administrative costs.

The organization’s 2021 budget is $9 million.

“I have to raise money, I need technological upgrades, and we have infrastructure things we need to get done,” Hightower said. “Technically, if we had another $1.5 million every year, that could underwrite the administrative costs, we would be soaring.”

The organization needs more investment and more staff to keep up with demand, she said.

“It brought to light how underinvested in organizations like mine are,” Hightower said. “It really has showcased how we’re limping. We can do the work. My folks are ready to do the work. But I’m at full capacity.

“So the issue now is when is this community going to make a real investment into this organization and help us build the capacity? It costs money to do the work.”

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