Dwayne Ashley, President and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, has been successfully raising funds in the non-profit sector for 20 years. His commitment to supporting educational opportunities for the black community is the continuation of a legacy that began with his grandmother. George Eliot said, “Our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds.” In keeping his family’s generational imperative of ensuring that others are afforded the opportunity to become educated and affluent, Dwayne has earned that status for himself. I recently spoke with him to discuss the value of marketing partnerships with member-based organizations, the importance of diversity advisory boards, and the opportunities for luxury brands to target affluent ethnic consumers.
ANDREA: Tell us about yourself and your family background.
DWAYNE: I’m actually celebrating my 20th year in the non-profit sector. I grew up in the South – in Houston, Texas. I am a third generation black college graduate. Most of my family members went to Grambling and Southern University in Louisiana. In fact, one of my first cousins was a former president of Grambling. I attended public school, Wiley College for my undergrad, and University of Pennsylvania for graduate school. My parents were entrepreneurs, and my mother still operates a small business. My dad is retired from Texaco.
ANDREA: How did you get involved in the non-profit sector?
DWAYNE: I started doing fundraising for the United Negro College Fund [UNCF] while I was in college. From that involvement I was elected to become the National Pre-Alumni Council president, which was the student fundraising arm. That got me interested in fundraising. When I graduated college I wanted to work for UNCF, but they wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t have enough experience. So I went to work for the United Way, did two years there, and then was recruited to head up the UNCF office in Philadelphia. From there I was “bitten by the bug” and stayed in the industry.
ANDREA: That’s a long commitment, Dwayne. There must be something driving you. What is that?
DWAYNE: Well, one thing is that my great-grandmother was a famous midwife in Louisiana, and she donated the land for the first black school to be built. I think it goes back to my family history and her commitment to education – it’s in the family’s blood. They’ve all been involved volunteers. My mother serves on several community boards, and my dad is the chairman of his church board and has been very active in the community. So I think it comes from being brought up in a family that is civic-minded and has cultivated that in me.
Now, because I went to an HBCU [Historically Black College or University] I know the difference that it makes, and I want to see more kids get that opportunity. That’s part of what drives me to continue to do this – and that you can see the tangible results.