8​ ​Trends​ ​in ​Independent​ ​School​ ​Fundraising

In​ ​April​ ​2017,​ ​Linda​ ​Wise​ ​McNay,​ ​Ph.D.,​ ​of​ ​Our​ ​Fundraising​ ​Search,​ ​and​ ​John​ ​Marshall, assistant​ ​head​ ​for​ ​development​ ​of​ ​Wesleyan​ ​School,​ ​conducted​ ​a​ ​survey​ ​of​ ​almost​ ​400​ ​heads​ ​of school​ ​to​ ​measure​ ​trends,​ ​challenges,​ ​and​ ​opportunities​ ​in​ ​independent​ ​school​ ​development​ ​and fundraising.​ ​The​ ​results​ ​were​ ​surprising​ ​and​ ​significant​ ​and​ ​shared​ ​with​ ​attendees​ ​at​ ​the​ ​October SAIS​ ​(Southern​ ​Association​ ​of​ ​Independent​ ​Schools)​ ​conference.

The​ ​average​ ​school​ ​respondent​ ​was​ ​a​ ​54-year-old​ ​day​ ​school​ ​with​ ​an​ ​average​ ​of​ ​2,353​ ​alumni. About​ ​half​ ​the​ ​schools have​ ​less​ ​than​ ​500​ ​students,​ ​58%​ ​are​ ​K-12,​ ​and​ ​62%​ ​have​ ​a​ ​budget​ ​less than​ ​$10,000,000.

Eight​ ​trends​ ​emerged​ ​based​ ​on​ ​information​ ​provided​ ​by​ ​the​ ​161​ ​SAIS​ ​schools​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Southeast who​ ​responded​ ​to​ ​the​ ​survey.

1.  Head​ ​of​ ​school​ ​fundraising​ ​experience​ ​exceeds​ ​tenure.
     The​ ​average​ ​head​ ​of​ ​school​ ​respondent​ ​has:
  • 7​ ​years​ ​of​ ​experience​ ​as​ ​head​ ​of​ ​his/her​ ​current​ ​school.
  • 10​ ​years​ ​total​ ​experience​ ​in​ ​his/her​ ​current​ ​school.
  • 11​ ​years​ ​of​ ​experience​ ​in​ ​all​ ​his/her​ ​headships.
  • 14​ ​years​ ​total​ ​experience​ ​in​ ​fundraising.
2.  Most​ ​heads​ ​have​ ​major​ ​gift​ ​experience.
  • 7%​ ​of​ ​heads​ ​of​ ​school​ ​responding​ ​have​ ​never​ ​solicited​ ​a​ ​large​ ​gift.
  • 56%​ ​of​ ​heads​ ​of​ ​school​ ​responding​ ​have​ ​solicited​ ​gifts​ ​up​ ​to​ ​$500,000.
  • 28%​ ​of​ ​heads​ ​of​ ​school​ ​responding​ ​have​ ​solicited​ ​a​ ​gift​ ​of​ ​$1​ ​million​ ​or​ ​more.
3.  Development​ ​Committees​ ​are​ ​under-utilized.
  • 21%​ ​of​ ​schools​ ​reporting​ ​do​ ​NOT​ ​have​ ​a​ ​Development​ ​Committee.
  • 6%​ ​of​ ​schools​ ​reporting​ ​have​ ​a​ ​Development​ ​Committee​ ​which​ ​NEVER​ ​meets.
  • 22%​ ​of​ ​schools​ ​reporting​ ​have​ ​a​ ​Development​ ​Committee​ ​which​ ​meets​ ​to​ ​receive reports.
  • 48%​ ​of​ ​schools​ ​reporting​ ​have​ ​some​ ​Development​ ​Committee​ ​activities.
  • Only​ ​3%​ ​of​ ​schools​ ​reporting​ ​have​ ​giving​ ​and​ ​getting​ ​required​ ​for​ ​Development Committee​ ​service.
4.  The​ ​annual​ ​fund​ ​is​ ​critical​ ​to​ ​balancing​ ​the​ ​budget.
  • Respondents​ ​raised​ ​an​ ​average​ ​of​ ​$920,757.
  • The​ ​median​ ​was​ ​$350,000.
5.  Email​ ​is​ ​the​ ​most​ ​popular​ ​fundraising​ ​tool.
  • Email​ ​is​ ​utilized​ ​by​ ​86%​ ​of​ ​schools​ ​responding,​ ​followed​ ​closely​ ​by​ ​direct​ ​mail​ ​and personal​ ​solicitation.​ ​Online​ ​fundraising,​ ​events,​ ​phoning,​ ​and​ ​texting​ ​are​ ​also​ ​tools employed.
  • 50%​ ​of​ ​schools​ ​offer​ ​monthly​ ​giving​ ​as​ ​an​ ​option​ ​and​ ​6%​ ​have​ ​tried​ ​crowdfunding with​ ​mixed​ ​results.

6.  Capital​ ​campaigns​ ​are​ ​lagging.
  • Only​ ​36%​ ​of​ ​responding​ ​schools​ ​are​ ​in​ ​campaign​ ​mode.​ ​16%​ ​are​ ​considering.​ ​48% are​ ​not​ ​raising​ ​capital​ ​funds​ ​at​ ​all.
  • Of​ ​those​ ​schools​ ​reporting,​ ​56%​ ​raised​ ​less​ ​than​ ​$3​ ​million​ ​in​ ​their​ ​last​ ​campaign.
  • Average​ ​debt​ ​of​ ​school​ ​respondents:​ ​$5,492,459.
7.  The​ ​head’s​ ​most​ ​significant​ ​challenge​ ​is​ ​raising​ ​endowment.
  • Average​ ​endowment​ ​of​ ​schools​ ​reporting:​ ​$9,651,101.​ ​Median​ ​is​ ​$1,000,000.
  • All​ ​NAIS​ ​endowment:​ ​$21,692,898.​ ​All​ ​SAIS​ ​members​ ​$17,016,697.​ ​(DASL​ ​data)
  • 41%​ ​of​ ​schools​ ​reporting​ ​boast​ ​a​ ​planned​ ​giving​ ​program.​ ​40%​ ​have​ ​none.
  • 30​ ​schools​ ​are​ ​initiating​ ​planned​ ​giving​ ​programs.
8.  Heads​ ​are​ ​spending​ ​more​ ​time​ ​raising​ ​money.
  • Heads​ ​of​ ​school​ ​responding​ ​spend​ ​approximately​ ​27%​ ​of​ ​their​ ​time​ ​raising​ ​funds.
  • The​ ​minimum​ ​is​ ​zero.​ ​The​ ​maximum​ ​reported​ ​80%.
  • Most​ ​often​ ​(87%)​ ​heads​ ​sign​ ​letters/notes.
  • 70%​ ​of​ ​heads​ ​report​ ​meeting​ ​one-on-one​ ​with​ ​donors.
  • 68%​ ​attend​ ​cultivation​ ​events.​ ​62%​ ​speak​ ​to​ ​groups.
  • 58%​ ​attend​ ​campaign/development​ ​meetings.
  • 22%​ ​report​ ​having​ ​no​ ​reluctance​ ​asking​ ​for​ ​gifts.

Given​ ​the​ ​results​ ​of​ ​the​ ​survey,​ ​what​ ​should​ ​heads​ ​of​ ​school​ ​do​ ​differently​ ​going​ ​forward​ ​as​ ​it relates​ ​to​ ​fundraising​ ​for​ ​their​ ​schools?​ ​Heads​ ​of​ ​schools​ ​should​ ​spend​ ​more​ ​time​ ​raising money-closer​ ​to​ ​50%​ ​than​ ​25%.​ ​They​ ​should​ ​cultivate​ ​their​ ​alumni​ ​to​ ​encourage​ ​them​ ​to​ ​give back​ ​to​ ​their​ ​school​ ​now​ ​and​ ​in​ ​the​ ​future.​ ​Activate​ ​the​ ​school​ ​development​ ​committee/board. 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.

Feel​ ​free​ ​to​ ​contact​ ​Linda​ ​for​ ​any​ ​additional​ ​details​ ​about​ ​the​ ​survey​ ​results,​ ​or​ ​if​ ​you​ ​have additional​ ​fundraising​ ​questions​ ​for​ ​future​ ​research​ ​projects.


  1. Louisa Basarrate says:

    Great research and I love, love, love the recommendations at the end of the article. Data-driven planning is the best. You’re right on the money, so to speak.

    Thanks Linda and John!

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