Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Philanthropy
During my tenure as a volunteer board member and as volunteer president of a public school foundation board of directors, I decided to visit with several school superintendents. The purpose of these visits was to determine how superintendents think about priority needs, community relations, volunteer engagement and the role a public school foundation should play. I had a sense that each superintendent would view my discussion in a somewhat similar way. Boy, was I wrong!
The first superintendent was very confident in his abilities. He spent two hours telling me how I should do my job. In truth, all he knew was how to ask for funds. He did not know how the total development process works. Another superintendent looked at me like I was from Mars. I asked him what he thought was the top philanthropic priority in the school system. He could not answer the question. When I asked another superintendent what her thoughts were regarding the role of a foundation, she said she never worked directly with a foundation. I was amazed at their responses, since each of these superintendents had a successful foundation operating in his or her respective school system.
Many public school foundations focus on direct mail, social media or special events such as a gala or golf tournament. When they receive net income after expenses, they typically provide grants for the benefit of teachers and students. In many cases, the same teachers apply for grants each year, and due to lack of broad-based support, a limited population of teachers and students benefit from this activity. I totally believe this program is important. That said, however, additional public school foundation priorities need financial attention.
Foundation fundraising programs should consist of elements encompassing annual gifts, major gifts, planned gifts and development services. The priorities for the school system also need to be expanded and owned by a variety of stakeholders. Some tips include:
- Survey superintendents, principals, teachers, volunteers, donors and others to gather their thoughts on how the foundation operating structure can be improved.
- Ask these individuals to participate in a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) session to gather thoughts and ownership.
- Create a strategic and operational philanthropic plan.
- Provide each principal with unrestricted funds to do whatever he or she desires to promote teaching, research and service. This could include continuing education funds for teachers, materials for teachers in the classroom, funds for volunteers, etc.
- Look at best-of-class programs, and see which new ideas can work for you.
- Be flexible and open to possibilities.
- Create endowment funds, and use restricted and unrestricted funds wisely.
The needs and pressure for additional private dollars for public school foundations are great. The days of a single operational focus for a public school foundation are over. Make every constituency own philanthropy and seek to broaden your impact. The teachers and children are waiting.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.