Developing Development: Senior Counsel John Claughton on leading, growing the effort

Graham-Pelton is pleased to welcome John Claughton as Senior Counsel. John will partner with the firm’s clients in the UK and throughout Europe to provide strategic fundraising advice and support to School leaders.

John spent his career in the education sector and was honored for his work multiple times. In September 2015, John was chosen by Tatler as ‘Public School Head of Year’; in August 2016, he was commended for his fundraising achievement by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE Europe); and in November 2016, he was awarded the TES Independent School Lifetime Achievement Award. He was on the HMC Academic Committee and served as Chairman of the HMC Sports Committee for eight years.

John recently shared his thoughts on how his tenure in schools sparked his desire to elevate philanthropy for the UK’s leading institutions.

You have extensive experience leading Schools. Tell us about how you embraced fundraising alongside the many responsibilities as a head?

I was head of two independent schools in England – Solihull for 4 years, and King Edward’s School, Birmingham for nearly 11. In my first headship, we did nothing about fundraising, either for capital projects or Assisted Places/bursaries. There were reasons for that: there were other issues at Solihull that were more immediate and important; the school was able to engage in a major building project from its own resources; development and fundraising was still in its infancy – and I had spent 17 years teaching at Eton where fundraising was taking place but wasn’t much talked about amongst the staff.

However, King Edward’s was different. The school – one of the great day schools of the UK for perhaps a century – was not what it was and was in real need of funds, to develop a site that had seen little or no development in recent decades and to enable bright boys to come from less wealthy backgrounds. The school had been at its best under the Direct Grant system when 80% of places were funded by the state. By 2006, that proportion was down at 10%, and that had a big impact on our academic performance. So, it was an absolute necessity.

There was another factor. I was an alumnus of the school, and I knew how grateful my contemporaries were for the transformational education we had received. I knew they would want to support the school.

How has your athletic career and coaching experience played a role in your leadership as a Headmaster, fundraiser, and now consultant?

I suppose it’s hard to quantify. I was – briefly and badly – a professional cricketer, and I had captained Oxford University. I loved rugby, too, so sport was a massive part of my life. As a head, my experience of sport gave me a strong understanding of the importance of sport in the boys’ lives and a strong rapport with the staff who coached and supported sport. I also loved watching the boys play sport, and that helped me to build a rapport with them.

However, many of the ways in which I think about leadership were formed by my experience as a games player, not least because I spent a lot of time captaining sides. Sport requires forming relationships, working in teams, having a laugh, coping with success and failure, making the wrong choice, enduring nerves, and enjoying adrenalin. I suppose I brought all of this to form the teams that mattered in the school and in development – in forming relationships with the alumni across the generations. In the end, sport formed my character and enriched my life in many ways, and I carried that with me in all I did. I was, in the end, a ‘character’ actor more than a ‘method’ actor as a head or a fundraiser – and as a consultant – and sport was a big part of that.

Please tell me more about your successes in leadership while Chief Master of King Edward’s School. What instigated the need to raise money, and what were your proudest moments from the campaign to raise £10m from alumni and £8m for the capital projects?

As explained above, we needed money, above all, to offer Assisted Places to restore the school to its historic purpose – to educate the bright boys of Birmingham, whatever their financial situation. The £10m we raised for Assisted Places in the AP100 Campaign has funded 100 boys in the school. The £8m for capital projects was wonderful, but it was a big, big bonus which came to us from the generosity of three big alumni donors: Sir Paul Ruddock, who funded the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre; Andrew Brode, who funded a science and languages wing; and Stuart Southall, who funded a hockey pavilion.

As for pride, of course, it was a deeply moving moment to get to the target of £10m for the AP100 Campaign in my final term, with the author Lee Child there to finish the job. And the opening of the Ruddock Performing Arts Centre, with some exceptional musicians, was remarkable, too. I felt pride every time I saw the building.

In the end, however, the school is about the boys. Last week, I heard that a boy from a very troubled background on an Assisted Place got an offer from Oxford. That boy, and many others I can remember and could name, are what matters to me most.

It is not always common that a Head of School takes a prominent role in raising money. What was it that compelled you to do so, and what advice would you offer heads who are considering what their role in development should be?

I was lucky. The need for fundraising was so obviously central to the school’s future that there was no compulsion. It was the only way to build a future, and that was clear within months. Then, the fact that I was an alumnus and knew the school’s greatness and the alumni’s love of it was a massive help. And Sir Paul Ruddock made a massive donation before we’d even invented a Development Office. The biggest truth I know is that, unless the head believes in development, and has a clear and central purpose and gives of his time and energy, it won’t happen. For me, working with the alumni was exhilarating and brought me some of my happiest moments as a head.

You’ve made a significant impact serving schools and the students, families, and communities who benefit. What was it that attracted you to join Graham-Pelton?

I am afraid that I cannot say that we used Graham-Pelton at King Edward’s. We flew solo. However, I was very struck when I saw their benchmarking survey and heard their analysis. They seemed to me to talk more sense and to have a better understanding of schools than anyone else I have seen. I am just keen to make use of my experience to work with an organisation to continue to have an impact on the accessibility of independent schools in the UK.

John wrote about how the power of effective development strategies lies in understanding different forms of fundraising depends on the institution. To learn more, visit the blog post “The Development Cat and How To Skin It” here.

Contact John directly via email or by calling +44 (0)207. 060. 2622.

All Services

Fundraising Strategy

  • Annual giving
  • Planned giving
  • Principal and major gifts
  • Risk assessment


  • Planning studies
  • Campaign strategy and counsel
  • Campaign assessments and audits
  • Communications
  • Coaching

Attraction and Retention

  • Donor relations
  • Alumni relations
  • Grateful patient programs
  • International scoping
  • Member relations

Organizational Effectiveness

  • Operational assessments
  • Talent assessments and development
  • Training and engagement
  • Interim staffing

Business Intelligence

  • Prospect profiling
  • Database optimization
  • Wealth screening and analysis
  • Fundraising metrics


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