Linda Wise McNay, PhD
Survey Findings: Heads of School Need to Work Harder on Fundraising
I recently conducted a survey through my consulting firm, Our Fundraising Search of Atlanta, Georgia, of almost 400 heads of school to measure trends, challenges, and opportunities in independent school development and fundraising. The survey, conducted on behalf of the Southern Association of Independent Schools, was carried out in conjunction with John Marshall, assistant head for development of Wesleyan School, also of Atlanta.
What we discovered was surprising and significant.
Fundraising: How Are Heads of School Doing?
The findings show that the typical school is a 54-year-old day school with an average of 2,353 alumni. About half the schools have fewer than 500 students, 58 percent are K-12, and 62 percent have a budget less than $10 million.
The heads of school have more fundraising experience than tenure. On average, a school head had 14 years of fundraising experience while only seven years as a head of school.
Most heads of school have major gift experience. Twenty-eight percent have solicited a gift of $1 million or more, 56 percent have solicited gifts up to $500,000, and a mere 7 percent have never solicited a large gift.
Development committees are underused. Only 3 percent of schools reporting have giving and getting required for development committee service, while everybody else is somewhere between halfhearted and “what’s a development committee?” Twenty-one percent of schools do NOT have a development committee. Six percent of schools reporting have a development committee which NEVER meets. Twenty-two percent have a development committee which ONLY meets to receive reports. Forty-eight percent of schools have SOME development committee activities.
The annual fund is critical to balancing the budget. Respondents raised an average of $920,757. The median was $350,000.
Fundraising has kept pace with technology. Email is the most popular fundraising tool. Email is used by 86 percent, followed far behind by direct mail and personal solicitation. Online fundraising, events, phoning, and texting are also tools employed. Fifty percent of schools offer monthly giving as an option and 6 percent have tried crowdfunding, with mixed results.
Capital campaigns are lagging. Only 36 percent of responding schools are in campaign mode. In addition, 16 percent are considering it, while 48 percent are not raising capital funds at all. Of those schools reporting, 56 percent raised less than $3 million in their last campaign. On average, debt of school respondents is $5.4 million.
The school head’s most significant challenge is raising endowment. The average endowment is $9.6 million. The median is $1 million.
Forty-one percent of schools reporting boast a planned giving program; 40 percent have none. Thirty schools are initiating planned giving programs.
Heads of school are spending more time raising money. Heads of school responding spend approximately 27 percent of their time raising funds. The minimum is zero. The maximum reported 80 percent.
Most often (87 percent) heads of school sign letters/notes. Seventy percent of school heads report meeting one-on-one with donors. Sixty‑eight percent attend cultivation events, while 62 percent speak to groups. Fifty‑eight percent attend campaign/development meetings.
Okay, so there you have the survey results. There are lots of numbers to crunch and percentages to digest, but they show some important trends. Now what?
My Recommendations to Heads of School
Given the results of the survey, my recommendations going forward are that school heads should:
- Spend more time raising money, maybe putting in closer to 50 percent than 25 percent.
- Cultivate their alumni to encourage them to give back to their school now and in the future.
- Activate the school development committee/board. Get them more involved.
- Provide fundraising training to staff and volunteers so that they may become more effective in their efforts.
- Grow the endowment through planned giving and hire the most qualified development staff available.
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