The pandemic wrought significant change in schools; I marveled at school staff members’ ability to move quickly and pivot to online learning and watched in awe as enrollment started to skyrocket for schools with space for additional students.
There is almost no aspect of school life it hasn’t changed. The same is true of school advancement. For the past year and a half, schools have seen significant growth in their annual funds. According to a recent CASE pulse survey, 60% of independent schools (primarily in the U.S.) experienced growth in annual giving in the 2020/21 school year. Among the 60%, CASE estimates that schools had an average 12% increase to the annual fund. That number increases depending on school type and size. These are truly staggering figures when we stop to consider that in March 2020, we anticipated a repeat of the global financial crisis of 2007–2009. We experienced the opposite phenomenon: Grateful parents and alumni generously supported their beloved schools in hopes of curbing the negative impacts of the pandemic.
It was this time last school year when I started getting calls from advancement directors. “My annual fund seems to be up,” they said. “Are you seeing that at other schools? My head of school, my chief financial officer, my board, they’re all excited and asking if we should increase annual fund goals for the future.” It’s a fair question, perhaps even more so now as we see just how much growth has been possible in the past two semesters.
It’s a question, however, that shouldn’t be asked in a vacuum, and one that leads me to a conclusion and a recommendation for schools in general. Rather than setting revenue goals this way, school revenue leaders—directors of advancement, enrollment, and finance—need to come together to have meaningful and long-term conversations that impact the school’s fiscal health. I advocate for this relationship that I call “The Golden Triangle” of school revenue management.
As the world around us continues to demand change from our educational institutions, the independent school of the future must rise to the challenge. Schools must think, act, and evolve strategically, and The Golden Triangle is a key collaboration that will help shift the thinking and ensure that schools thrive into the future.