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Class Show Offs

School puts its annual fund competition on display

By Theresa Walker

That figure lurking around the grounds of the Baylor School in the predawn hours each fall isn't a cat burglar or student prankster—it's Jan Cooper, director of annual giving at the Chattanooga, Tenn., independent school. The past three Septembers, Cooper has been surreptitiously adding a little red vinyl to update each grade's tally of parent giving to the annual fund. But what she's really adding is fuel to the competition between the classes to reach 100 percent parent participation.

A couple of weeks into each new school year, the banner of empty numbers—six through 12—appears in front of Baylor, and the contest is on. "It brings the school together in a fun way," Cooper says. "The kids get excited and ask their parents: ‘Did you give yet?' "

The sixth, seventh, and eighth grades have hit the goal each year since the competition began, which means they earn a special party complete with bounce houses, games, prizes, minute-to-win-it contests, and festive food.

Since students can begin boarding at Baylor in ninth grade, reaching full participation among the higher grades has been more challenging, but Cooper is seeing a difference as each class moves up. While the upper grades have reached at least 60 percent in past years, this year the 10th grade surpassed 75 percent and, at publication time, the ninth grade was just a few contributions shy of 100 percent.

Students have an extra incentive to encourage their parents to give before the phonathon: A gift or pledge earns the students play money.

"It's only enough for a soda or a smoothie," Cooper says, "but they link it back to their parents' gift and learn about giving back to their school." It helps the parents too, she adds, since it takes them off the phonathon call list. "Nobody wants to get that call, so this is an easy way to jumpstart their giving."

This exposure to the annual fund may be laying some philanthropic groundwork for the school and the students, Cooper says. "When they get a letter about the annual fund in 10 years, I hope this will [have made] an impact in their long-term awareness about giving back to the school."

About the Author Theresa Walker Theresa Walker

Theresa Walker is a senior editor at Currents, where she covers the marketing and communications beat.




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