Fundraising Features: Phillips Exeter Academy - Silver Medal

Category 13: Electronic Media: Fundraising Features
Phillips Exeter Academy – 75th Harkness Anniversary Film

Contact: Kristin Fogdall, director of alumni/ae affairs and development communications
20 Main Street, Exeter NH 03833, Phone: (603) 777-3459; e-mail:

Project Description and Objectives: This film was created to sustain momentum in the third year of our comprehensive fundraising campaign, The Exeter Initiatives. Its primary purpose is to attract attendance and inspire pride at regional events around the country. Later in the year it will be made available on our Web site. The primary target audience is alumni/ae, followed by parents and friends.

Our constituency tends to be highly analytical, and they want to be inspired by the educational vision of a project, not the dollar figures. From the outset, our objective has been to keep the primary focus on the educational vision behind the campaign, and not on the campaign or dollar goal itself.

The third year of the campaign coincides with the 75th anniversary of our distinctive teaching method, commonly known as the Harkness method. Harkness is absolutely fundamental to Exeter's culture, and every graduate understands Harkness teaching from experience. However, the remarkable story of Edward Harkness and his friendship with Lewis Perry (our 13th principal) was not widely known.

In brief, Edward Harkness was a businessman and philanthropist on par with Carnegie or Rockefeller, who quietly gave away his entire family fortune in the first half of the 20th century. He wanted to revolutionize education and challenged Exeter to develop a more personal, less rote approach. The challenge came with a promise from Harkness to fund the entire project.

By telling this story, our goal is to promote two themes that are vital to The Exeter Initiatives campaign: first, pride in Exeter's unique way of teaching (that must be preserved through the campaign) and second, celebration of a donor who played a transformational role at Exeter (an example for modern donors to follow). By staying focused on Exeter's mission and vision, we believe we avoid cynicism about the campaign and lay a stronger foundation for ongoing annual fund and major gift solicitations.

Planning and Process: Our planning began with the need to solve several challenges:

  1. In order to attract audiences and create an enjoyable event, how can we provide entertainment value?
  2. To keep it entertaining, how can we make the history part come alive?
  3. In order to instill pride, how can we demonstrate the impact Harkness is having on the world beyond Exeter?
  4. And because our audience demands accuracy in all things, how do we make sure we have the historical story straight?

We tackled the fourth challenge first. We hired a freelance writer and researcher who knows Exeter well to spend a month in our school archives (and with outside sources). The result was a 15-page paper that provided the foundation for our film script, as well as for collateral material.

Next came the script, which we determined should strike a balance between historical documentary and entertaining "shorts" about Harkness teaching. Wherever possible, the history should be delivered with humor or through the creative arts. Rick Rabe of Big Leap wrote the script, with oversight and input from our alumni/ae affairs & development communications staff.

We then began a period of intense preparation, which focused on identifying people to be filmed and gathering archival material for the documentary section. Three staff members spent several weeks cold calling to libraries, museums, schools, social clubs, and historical associations around the country in an attempt to unearth images of Harkness, who during his lifetime avoided publicity as much as possible. Only one of the images you see in the film (a painting) was in our possession when the project began.

We scheduled approximately 20 interviews of alumni/ae, students and faculty, not knowing who would give us our best material, and recognizing that we would use only a small portion of the people filmed. We also cast students and townspeople to appear in the "shorts."

By the time Rick arrived on campus for five days of shooting, we had a complete schedule: approximately 10 hours of shooting each day. This was followed by two days of alumni/ae filming in Colorado and California. The off-campus interviews focused on people who could describe the impact of Harkness teaching beyond Exeter.

After filming was complete, Rick took several months to edit. We saw approximately five "rough cuts," reviewed by our internal staff, our principal, and selected trustees. The final stage involved creating titles, writing credits, designing the DVD jacket, and manufacture of the DVDs. Rick Rabe managed all this, with our oversight.

Response and Results: The response of event attendees (alumni/ae and parents) has been overwhelming positive. People express great appreciation for learning a story that is so fundamental to Exeter's character and so little known until now. We have absolutely achieved our twin goals of instilling pride and providing entertainment.

The film has been shown in three of our major markets, with four more major markets scheduled through June 2007. So far, we have achieved our goal of maintaining (or increasing) attendance. We believe the dramatic increase in New York reflects a growing "buzz" among alumni/ae, combined with a special Flash e-mail and reunion e-mail campaign we designed to go with the film, beginning with the New York event. (The film will also be shown in 17 minor markets over the course of 2006–07.)


Last campaign event

Event with film this year







New York











Primary staffing:

Rick Rabe, filmmaker and producer
Hagoth Aiono, Rick's assistant
Kristin Fogdall, director of AA & D communications, Exeter
Melanie Sage, asst. director
Laura Chisholm, asst. director
Maxine Weed, staff asst. to the director


Creative fee $120,000
Research $1,500
Archival photography $677
Production expenses $2,085
DVD duplication $3250
TOTAL $127,512