The Development cat – and how to skin it

Last week, I went to a very successful independent girls’ school to talk about their experiences in fundraising – and they have been successful at that, too, over the years. That success has raised millions of pounds for a Performing Arts Centre and is in the process of raising another six-figure sum for a new Sixth Form boarding house. They have a clear strategic end. If they are to attract – and retain – pupils in one of the most competitive environments there is, with world-class girls and co-educational schools gathered in swarms all around them, it is vital to have the very best facilities, for living and working and playing. So, the school raises money for that purpose, and that purpose alone.

If the end is clear and simple, so is their means. Almost all of their giving is from parents and hardly any from alumnae, and the best way for them to encourage parental giving is through direct contact. In particular, the Head regularly holds dinners for parents where the school’s plans and needs are explicitly addressed. There aren’t giving envelopes on the table, but everyone knows what these occasions are all about. Parents give in large numbers and with varying amounts because they can see how these plans will enhance their own daughters’ experiences, now and in the future, and preserve a school whose ethos and values they want to support and respect.

It’s that simple. However, this simplicity is very different from my own fundraising experience. Of course, there is one similarity: both schools have been successful. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this. King Edward’s School, Birmingham raised £10m for Assisted Places in eight years. But that’s where the similarity ends. King Edward’s School, once the best academic school, has always depended on educating the brightest boys of Birmingham, whatever their background. The focus of fundraising, therefore, was on Assisted Places, and not on facilities, striving to return to the glory days of Assisted Places. Almost all of the giving came from alumni, not parents: the former have a deep sense of gratitude to the school, whereas most of the latter haven’t got money to spare to offer more than the fees. Nor would dinners with this Head have got us very far. Instead, King Edward’s needed the full panoply of fundraising: major donors, individual sponsors of individual pupils, matched funding, regular phone campaigns and even more regular giving, and events of all shapes, sizes, and venues.

So what? Well, here are two conclusions to ponder. The first is that this tells us that Development may have only one name, but it has many forms. Each school has to identify the form, the ends, and the means, which apply in its own context. There is no single paradigm. The second is that, for all the differences, there are key elements that are shared in the two stories: both schools had and have a clear purpose, a Head that believes in and supports that purpose, and a strong relationship of trust between the Head and the Development Director. Without these three elements, there can be no success.

John Claughton is Senior Counsel with Graham-Pelton Consulting. Click here for insights about the IDPE and Graham-Pelton Benchmarking Survey results, and the way your organisation may benefit from our findings.

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