United Negro College Fund

Founded in 1944, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) has grown to become one of the nation’s best-known charitable organizations. Funds contributed to the UNCF make it possible for 43 UNCF member colleges and universities to keep tuitions low and the dream of an education within every student’s reach. In 1972, the UNCF partnered with the Ad Council to launch a public service advertising campaign encouraging Americans to support the fund. The campaign slogan, “A Mind is a Terrible Thing To Waste,” has remained unchanged for more than three decades and has become part of the American vernacular.

At the time of the campaign launch, graduates from UNCF member schools represented more than half of all black elected officials in the United States, 75% of the country’s black Ph.D’s, and 85% of the country’s black doctors. In addition, 90% percent of these graduates were the first in their families to receive a degree and 70% percent came from families with a gross income level of $5,000 or less. Though the nation was in the midst of a business recession, contributions to the UNCF doubled in the first five years of the campaign.

Some public service advertisements (PSAs) reminded the public that for every student UNCF sends to college there is another equally deserving student who cannot attend because of lack of funds. Other PSAs made use of the business term “return on investment” and noted that an investment in the UNCF yields a successful college graduate.

Although UNCF member schools represented fewer than 4% of United States colleges in 1984, they enrolled an impressive 35% of all blacks attending 4-year colleges. During that same time, contributions to the UNCF continued to grow, with a 250% increase recorded between 1978 and 1989.

To date, the campaign has helped to raise more than $1.9 billion and has helped to graduate more than 300,000 minority students from 43 UNCF member colleges and universities. Through the decades, many celebrities have lent their talent to UNCF PSAs, including Maya Angelou, Leontyne Price, Samuel L. Jackson, then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell and his wife Alma, Michael Jordan, and Spike Lee.

TV Commercials:

Little Brother (1987)

Two Michaels (1996)

Ad Council Campaigns That Have Made a Difference

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