FAMU’s Carla Willis is a University Money Maker

A scenic, corner office complete with windows surrounding a neatly organized desk in Florida A&M University‘s administration building is a long way from public housing in Kansas City, Mo. But it’s a vivid reminder of the full journey Carla Willis has made in 46 years.

Willis, vice president for university relations and executive director of the FAMU Foundation Inc., has worked for more than 17 years in the arena of higher-education fundraising.

She accepted the FAMU job nearly two years ago, with a $175,000 a year salary, just as the state and nation’s economy “tanked,” as Willis describes it.

A few more notches of pressure were added to her already high-pressure role. FAMU President James Ammons said he couldn’t think of a time when Willis’ job “has been more challenging or demanding.”

In three years, FAMU lost about $27.2 million during the economic downturn. Willis doesn’t appear to focus on those dollars.

As a university moneymaker, another figure comes to mind when considering her role — $8.5 million. That’s the amount she and her department have brought in during the past two years. To hear her tell it, the best is yet to come.

“For fundraisers, people who are in the business, we see these challenges as an opportunity. We’re writing a new world order on how we approach fundraising,” Willis said.


She and her team raised about $175,000 for FAMU’s marching band to perform in President Obama‘s inaugural parade.

One of the first campaigns she worked on was the Tom Joyner Morning Show’s fundraiser for Historically Black Colleges or Universities. FAMU was featured in January 2009 and earned about $1.2 million — the highest amount of any HBCU featured during the promotion.

However, Willis admits the bulk of the fundraising is “done privately.

“A lot of it is done where I’m sitting across the table one-on-one and talking with him or her about interests and sharing priorities of the institution,” she said.

Willis said she came to FAMU because the university’s reputation had taken a hit. That presented a challenge. “People want to support an entity or an organization that is not in turmoil,” she said. “They want to know and feel confident in the leadership of that institution so they know that their money is well invested.”

Since she’s been at FAMU, annual giving is up and the number of donors was “at an all-time high last year.”

“Given the turn in the economy, we’ve had the most individual givers we’ve had for the past 10 years,” Willis said. “As state budgets shrink, that’s when it’s all the more important for our alumni (and) for that private support.”

Her plans for this year involve launching a “significant capital campaign.”

“A campaign where over a five- to 10-year period of time, we can raise … hundreds of millions of dollars.”

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0 Comments

  • Roz

    Reply Reply January 28, 2010

    Wow, I applaud her efforts but a starting salary of$175,000 plus expenses (I am sure), that is a pretty steep salary. I’m just saying FAMU has teachers who don’t get checks sometimes…and they teach and graduate the students that represent the university in the world. For basically a PR/fundraising person to get that kind of money…wow.

  • Rickee

    Reply Reply January 28, 2010

    I’m not trying to be a negitive, but………… 80% of the 2.5 you mention, she really didn’t raise. My 12 year old son could have sat in her seat and the university still would have gotten 2 mil on GP alone.

    1. The Tom Joyner 1.2 Tom and Oscar Joyner did that.
    2. The BAnd 175k – the band was the attraction…………………….myson?
    3. The annual giving is up and the number of donors was at an all-time high because of Ammon and the faith people had in him to restore FAMU and take back what Cast- Hell tried to steal, kill and destroy.

    4. On homecoming halftime she presented a check for 2.5mil as though she raised it. She raised the oversized check grant but she did not raise the money. The 2.5 was grant money awarded to FAMU and Keith Simmon wrote that grant.

    Don’t get me wrong, it is a high-pressure role, and it may be challenging and demanding, and she may be doing a good job, but, a “money-making machine”…..keep it real she is not!

    Care to share other stats?

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