Dr. Stan Levenson



How local districts can cash in on big-time fund-raising

(American School Board Journal, May 2003)

By Stan Levenson

While public schools have been pushing candy sales, car washes, and other nickel-and-dime fund-raising efforts, private schools, colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations have been busy raising billions of dollars each year from corporations, foundations, the government, and private citizens.

Fund-raising in America is big business, but public schools have been slow to cash in on it. In Giving USA 2000, the American Association of Fundraising Counsel reported that charitable giving in the United States surpassed $190 billion as the 20th century came to a close. Corporations gave more than $11 billion annually to worthy causes; foundations gave more than $19 billion; and individuals gave by far the largest amount at $143 billion, including an additional $15 billion in bequests. Of the total amount contributed, more than $27 billion was given to public and private education, which ranks second only to religious organizations as a recipient of grants and gifts.

Many corporations, foundations, and individual donors are committed to supporting public education like never before. Already, foundations such as Annenberg, Broad, Gates, Wallace-Readers Digest, Lilly, and others are giving millions of dollars to the public schools. These organizations, including their leaders, are dedicated to helping the schools succeed.

In addition, the federal government continues to give significant dollars to the schools in competitive and noncompetitive grants. In 2002, schools received grants totaling more than $40 billion from the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Defense.

Total giving can be expected to increase over the next 50 years, according to researchers Paul Schervisch and John Havens of the Welfare Research Institute at Boston College. In the March 2, 2002, issue of the Boston Globe, Schervisch, director of the institute, reported that an astonishing $40.6 trillion would change hands over the next half-century. He points out that his figures are low estimates based on a meager 2 percent growth rate. A growth rate of 3 percent would mean a transfer of $73 trillion; a growth rate of 4 percent would yield $136 trillion.

If Schervisch and Havens are correct in their projections, more people will inherit more wealth than ever before and will need a place to invest it. Why not the public schools?

Individual giving and the public schools

More than eight out of 10 contributions to worthy causes come from individuals, yet solicitation of grants and gifts from individuals is practically nonexistent in the public schools. One of the main reasons schools have not sought gifts from individuals is that few school board members or school administrators know how to ask for them.

Things are beginning to change in some parts of the country, however. In October 2002, for example, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein appointed Caroline Kennedy to serve as chief executive of a newly created Office of Strategic Partnerships, which will oversee the development and management of strategic partnerships between the city's public schools and the private sector.

In her new role, Kennedy (who will earn a token $1 this year) will work cooperatively with key staff members to identify educational needs throughout the school system and then secure private-sector resources and target them for specific reform efforts. Strategic partnerships may range from systemwide initiatives, such as those supporting literacy, small schools, or professional development, to individual school-business partnerships, in which a corporation "partners" with a particular school, providing in-kind gifts, mentoring and internship opportunities, and financial resources.

"This is the most exciting opportunity I can imagine, and I am truly grateful for the chance to serve," Kennedy said when her appointment was announced. "There is no more important job than how we raise our children. There are so many dedicated, talented, and creative teachers, principals, and superintendents working their hearts out to educate young New Yorkers. I welcome the chance to support their efforts and to help give them the additional resources they need."

Perhaps there is a Caroline Kennedy living in your community -- someone who has very good contacts, who doesn't need or want a salary, and who is honored to be asked to serve the children, parents, teachers, principals, superintendent, and school board.

But even if you don't have a Kennedy nearby, you can solicit grants and gifts from alumni, parents, grandparents, and friends of your local schools, including those who live outside your school community. A number of approaches are available, including face-to-face fund-raising; direct mail fund-raising; fund-raising via radio, television, and the Internet; special events fund-raising; annual and capital campaigns; and endowments (see box on this page).

In soliciting gifts from individuals, be sure to point out that they can reap many tax advantages by giving cash and noncash assets, including appreciated assets, to the schools. Examples of appreciated assets are stocks, bonds, shares in mutual funds, and real estate -- including a home or farm, vacant land, vacation or rental property, and commercial property.

Because of the size and potential impact of such gifts, donors should be advised to consult with an attorney or tax professional before completing the process. Also, the school district should consult with its legal advisers concerning implementation of an individual giving program and develop policies for receiving such gifts. The policies should cover types of gifts you will accept and how to place a value on each gift. The district also should reserve the right to accept or reject any gift.

Once your school district begins to pursue gifts and grants, you'll find that the public schools have many friends. Many of the people responsible for awarding funds to the schools -- be they government bureaucrats, wealthy individuals, or corporate and foundation executives -- are products of the public schools themselves. They don't want to see U.S. schools fail and are committed to helping in any way they can.

They understand that the tax base for schools in this country -- just like the tax base for state colleges and universities -- is not enough to provide a world-class education for all our children. They know that public schools need additional funding for new and innovative program offerings, including programs in the creative and performing arts, sciences, mathematics, foreign languages, and technology. They understand that budgets are already strained paying for staff development, competitive teacher salaries, and fringe benefits. They are painfully aware that it costs huge amounts of money to purchase textbooks and materials; remodel and maintain buildings, grounds, and athletic facilities; rewire existing facilities; and build new schools.

A nurturing process

Winning gifts and grants requires nurturing relationships with givers, and the superintendent -- with the help and blessings of the school board -- should be the overall leader in this effort. Working with the development office staff, the local education foundation, central office staff, principals, teachers, parents, volunteers, consultants, and the school board, the superintendent can bring power, prestige, and creativity to the district's overall vision. In this regard, superintendents play the same role as college and university presidents, traveling within their immediate constituencies and on the road, meeting with corporate and foundation executives and potential individual donors.

Recently, I visited two foundations in the San Francisco Bay Area with a southern California superintendent. The executive directors of both foundations told me this was the first time that they had ever met with a superintendent on their own turf. They were pleased that the superintendent believed the matter was important enough to make a personal visit to the foundation to discuss the district's needs and vision. Needless to say, both foundations funded the school district in a major way.

Visiting corporations and foundations, as well as meeting with potential individual donors, helps to break the ice and begins the nurturing process that school districts need to go through before monies are usually awarded. When the CEO of a major foundation meets the CEO of a school district, good things start to happen. When the superintendent takes time to meet with a potential individual donor within the school community, good things also start to happen. Try it, and you will be rewarded handsomely.

For their part, individual school board members are key players in the district's overall large-scale fund-raising efforts. Most board members I know have many friends and contacts in the community and elsewhere, including key people in the business world. As a board member, why not capitalize on these important contacts for the overall good of the district? Why not solicit cash and other gifts from some of your friends and colleagues? If the opportunity is there and you can make a gift yourself, why not do so?

In the corporate world, boards of directors often play an important role in bringing funders to the table. In the nonprofit world, as well as in private schools, colleges, and universities, board members regularly contribute to the good causes they represent. Why not in the public schools?

Where to find help

Superintendents and school boards cannot carry the fund-raising responsibility alone, however. They know that with reasonable expectations the development office could be one of the district's few profit centers. As a result, many school districts are beginning to hire full-time staff members and consultants for their development offices. Depending on the district's size and available financial resources, a development staff might include one full-time employee or a part-time employee or volunteer. In larger districts, a full-time staff might include a director of development; a coordinator of individual giving; a coordinator of corporate, foundation, and government grants; a coordinator of alumni relations; one or more grant writers; administrative assistants; and other staff as needed.

Consultants can be hired to augment existing staff, provide staff development, and contribute their expert knowledge. Working with consultants gives the district an opportunity for appropriate training and helps accomplish immediate tasks, but it does not obligate the district to long-term contracts and fringe benefits.

A good way to find experienced, qualified staff for your development office is to place an announcement in the Philanthropy Careers section of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. If you need help in developing job descriptions, look at listings for similar positions. You can also seek advice from a fund-raising consultant. As far as salaries are concerned, the director of development and all other positions should receive salaries and fringe benefits comparable to those of similar positions in the district.

At this time of tight education budgets, it's more important than ever for public schools to develop comprehensive fund-raising efforts. Philanthropy has enormous potential: More and more individuals and organizations are interested in helping our nation's schools succeed. They want to give cash and non-cash gifts that will make a real difference in student learning. Don't miss this opportunity.

Stan Levenson, a former teacher, administrator, and university professor, is a fund-raising consultant and author of How to Get Grants and Gifts for the Public Schools. His Web site is www.grantsandgiftsforschools.com.


IF YOU decide to pursue individual gifts, here are some of the approaches you can use:

* Face-to-face fund-raising. In this approach, which is usually reserved for soliciting large gifts, key people are trained to contact wealthy community members and ask for gifts.

* Direct-mail fund-raising. This is a practical way to reach many prospective givers without having to recruit and train a large workforce. Once you have drafted a good letter, a small group of volunteers can handle the mailing and follow-up.

* Fund-raising via radio, television, and the Internet. Public service announcements soliciting gifts are becoming more and more popular with local education foundations and funds. Particularly lucrative is "e-fund-raising" using your school district's own Web site or one of the commercial fund-raising sites.

* Special-events fund-raising. Golf and tennis tournaments, walking and running events, auctions and silent auctions, and dinner dances are among the special events at which you can raise substantial monies -- assuming you've done adequate planning and participation.

* Annual and capital campaigns. Using structured models established by private schools, colleges and universities, and nonprofit organizations, school districts can launch annual and capital campaigns that have the potential to raise serious dollars.

* Endowments. Districts can seek large grants for the purpose of establishing an endowment that will continue into perpetuity. For example, if a million-dollar endowment is established for a college scholarship program, the principal is preserved and only the interest is used for scholarships. -- S.L.

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