“There you had much more wealth within the alumni base, so you don’t have to go out as much,” he said. “And it’s easy to raise money from people who aren’t in the alumni base because your alumni can take you to them. Here, it’s really about developing and cultivating relationships, oftentimes with people who don’t know what an H.B.C.U. — what that even means.”
The need for funds is particularly acute given the economic challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic is creating both for students and schools, said Michael L. Lomax, the chief executive of the United Negro College Fund, who introduced Mr. Hastings and Ms. Quillan to Spelman and Morehouse. He is hoping to raise $1 billion to address the effects.
“That’s the scale of the need,” Dr. Lomax said. “So we’re at about $60 million today; $40 million of that is from Patti and Reed. We need not 10 times that amount. We need almost 20 times that amount.”
Mr. Hastings and Ms. Quillan have been active in education philanthropy and reform for many years. Mr. Hastings has promoted charter schools and briefly sat on the board of education in California. He is on the board of Pahara Institute, a nonprofit that helps train teachers and supports the education reform movement. Recode reported on Tuesday that Mr. Hastings is building a retreat in Colorado for teacher training. He and Ms. Quillan have signed the Giving Pledge, promising to give away the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.
Mr. Hastings has also sought to diversify Netflix’s work force. Netflix reported that 7 percent of its employees in the United States are African-American, as are 8 percent of its company leaders, which is among the highest in the technology industry (but still only about half the share of African-Americans in the overall population). Netflix was an early supporter of high-profile black directors like Ava DuVernay. Yet the company has also been accused of promoting content by race, which it disputes as impossible because, it says, it doesn’t collect information about the ethnicity of its customers.
The large donation to the H.B.C.U.s, which will receive $40 million each, came as a surprise to their leaders.
“When they first talked to us, they said to us they were making a $20 million gift, and we thought that was unbelievable,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, Spelman’s president. “I mean, truly I was speechless. I actually cried.”
The next day, she received an email from Ms. Quillin: “They were upping it to $40 million.”