Toba Cohen-Dunning, CEFL, MSW, MPA
President, National School Foundation Association
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By: Cindy Morris, President/Executive Director, Peoria Public Schools FoundationWhen I inherited the position of President (Executive Director) of the Peoria Public Schools Foundation, I was fortunate to be taking over the reigns of an established public-school foundation that had a reputation for providing numerous classroom grants and scholarships for our high school seniors, initiatives funded by a successful annual golf outing. This traditional lane for a school foundation was important work, but the reality today of the demands on school foundations far exceed the standards of the past. Our mid-sized urban district foundation in the heart of Illinois is called upon daily to be a jack of all support trades, more and more working as the bridge between our community and the school district. Over the last decade we have expanded way beyond the traditional ways. About year two into the job, I reached out to the head of NSFA and asked an important question. “What are new and innovative ways are Public School Foundations supporting school districts?” The answer was Early Childhood, Technology related to Common Core and Career and College Readiness. This was a pivotal point for our foundation, and our board at the time knew so. There we embarked in direct career development educational programing to our K-12 students, including mentoring, instruction, and internship development and placement. We became a primary source as well for emergency need support for the students, including food resources, clothing, rent and utility support for our families, and other basic needs. We continue to provide individual school support with a community Adopt A School program that has grown to include goal setting and grade mentoring for our students who are academically most at risk, and we are still proud to administer close to $60,000 in classroom grants and student scholarships each year.
All these new and expanding programs under our enhanced foundation umbrella have required us now, more than ever, to find additional sources of revenue donations. We still have our golf outing and have added several other fundraising events to our calendar each year, as well as direct appeal letters to our supporters. However, there are some additional areas of financial support we have found to be an important place to find investment in our public schools. No matter what size your organization is, there are certain parts of fundraising and development beyond the golf outing you must embrace to grow support.
“Friend-Building”, the investment in time developing personal connections and cheerleaders for your foundation payoff in future financial support. This development in relationships allows the community to understand the importance of your foundation’s work and develop personal trust in your leadership and stewardship of donated funds. This cultivation of relationships take time, work, but mostly patience. You start small, and gradually ask for more from our donors and friends over time. Getting together to share over coffee, invitations to community events, personal notes of thanks for time and treasures donated: for this to be impactful you must pay attention and give attention to your supporters.
“Local Grants” are out there and can add-up to be a substantial portion of meeting budget goals. You must look in traditional and non-traditional places to find grant money. If you have a local community foundation, they will have a cycle for you to start applying. Try every single time. Other organizations that often grant to community projects include local Rotary and Kiwanis chapters, churches, and other civic organizations can also be an important resource. Unscientifically, I tend to think that if you write well and do the research you have a fifty/fifty chance of receiving a grant. While the scope of projects we undertake is substantial (like many of you, we can get the most out of a dollar) but financially we are a medium size non-profit, thus we do not qualify for many state and federal grants. However, if you are a large size financial donation organization, I would say to go for those larger grants as much as possible.
“Private Family Foundations Donations” We have been fortunate to do very well with local private family foundations. It is just knowing and having a connection with either one of the family members, their Executive Director, or both. Private family foundations are nice, because they need yearly disbursements for tax purposes, and often can give more than once a year. The other key to this type of development is appropriate fund asking. Do not ask for money just “because”, have an impactful, designated purpose stated for the funds and use the donation immediately for that purpose. Family foundations want their money used in the now, with a measurable impact realized in the stated timeframe. If you are not seeking connecting with these family foundations, you are missing out.
Regardless of the size of your school foundation, annual growth and development is important. Grow your traditional programs and make sure they are solid, then investigate new ways to support your school district. The same is true for fundraising. If you do one event well, add a second fundraiser. Additionally, investigate additional avenues of support from the community to your district by developing new friends to the foundation, looking for grant opportunities, and reaching out to local family foundations. By being strategic in your programing and fundraising, the plans for your school foundation’s future are obtainable. The school foundation future is NOW.
About the Author
With more than 25 years’ experience in management, Cindy Morris has spent her career building impactful community bridges in expanding and innovative ways. After a career in the banking industry, Cindy shifted her talents to the Non-Profit world, working with Peoria Public Schools first as the Adopt -A – School coordinator, and then in the position of President/Executive Director of the Peoria Public Schools Foundation. In her decade-long role as Executive Director, Cindy has created and increased fundraising for the Foundation, developed innovative programing that directly works with students in the schools, and reorganized the Foundation’s staff and board to create growth and improve the Foundation’s efficiency and impact on the district.
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By: Michelle Roberts, Executive Director, Central High School FoundationWhen our country began shuttering in place at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, our team at the Central High School Foundation dug in deep to weather the storm… so deep, in fact, that we went all the way back to our roots.
In such uncertain times, we, like many others, wondered what the future would hold and how we should adapt. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our regular event and educational programming was cancelled. This included the Hall of Fame, alumni reunions, Rock the Nest, and the annual Golf Outing. The loss of proceeds from these events would have directly impacted our students. What were we to do?
Well, we looked to the past for guidance. Located at the intersection of various unique neighborhoods, in the middle of downtown Omaha, Nebraska, Central High School stands as a 262-year-old conduit of our community, and a beacon of excellent public education. Our long history is filled with challenging moments: the loss of students to multiple world wars, the stress of economic devastation during the Great Depression, the rumble of unrest during great movements for civil rights. We realized through all that, one thing has remained the same: the strength and determination of our community. If we were going to get through this – like our predecessors did before us! – we were going to need to lean on the strength of our community.
In order to do that, we had to show strength ourselves. Right out of the gate, we began highlighting our alumni who were stepping up for their community in the darkest days of the pandemic – a 1973 graduate who was serving as a doctor at Johns Hopkins, a community activist who was operating a local food pantry, a firefighter, an ER nurse, a major-donor to the city’s food bank, a grocery store worker, a reporter on the ground giving up-to-date information about the virus. The message was clear: Eagle Nation is strong. We got this.
The Foundation then focused on quickly building new programming to replace the ones we lost. These programs offered new ways to reach our alumni and current student base, who now seemed more scattered and isolated than ever before. These new programs were designed to help our current students and graduates reconnect with their community and continue to learn and grow, while simultaneously providing help to those members of the Eagle family who needed it. The four programs implemented were:
Eagle Emergency Fund: In the early weeks of the pandemic, a CHSF Covid-19 emergency fund was established to help those Central families in need of direct support and resources to meet the challenges prompted by the pandemic. To date, the Central High School Foundation has helped over 150 families through the emergency fund. In addition, countless hours where put into being a resource for families to connect them with agencies that could continue to help bridge them to a sustainable future.
Affinity Reunions: Virtual Affinity Reunions were developed to connect our past, present and future Eagles within areas of mutual interest. The Affinity Reunion topics included JROTC, DECA, Roadshow, “O” Club, and Journalism. Over 300 individuals participated in the reunions. One alumni’s comment about the JROTC reunion was very much the norm for many of the Affinity reunion participants: “I want to take this opportunity to thank the Central High School Foundation for setting up the interesting Zoom reunion about the Central High School ROTC Program. It was nostalgic, interesting, if not exactly intoxicating!”
Zero Hour Masterclasses: Virtual classes were developed and conducted by Central staff to help our past, present and future Eagles improve their skills and knowledge in the areas of writing, art, Omaha history, African American History, and Latin. It was also a successful way to engage alumni in a way that ignited their nostalgia and sense of Eagle community. Over 500 individuals participated in these unique course offerings.
Flight to Equality Essay Series: In response to the social and political unrest of the summer of 2020, we developed a collaborative essay series, Flight to Equality, in which the CHSF used the voices of our diverse alumni to help us derive the knowledge, power, and motivation necessary to see through the eyes of one another. The Foundation, as an organization serving diverse constituents, understood the importance of collective public education. We felt it was necessary to respond to the challenges of our time with the same values that drive us daily: a respect for collaborative knowledge, an investment in teamwork, and a commitment to community learning.
The result of our effort was humbling. Our community showed up in ways we’ve never seen before. Even during a pandemic, we had the strongest turn out for our annual online giving campaign in our Foundation’s history. We were still able to award more than 65 scholarships to graduating seniors. We were still able to meet the new needs of our teachers, who were adapting to online learning, by purchasing unexpected classroom supplies. And we were still able to connect with our alumni in a way we didn’t know was possible. All because we leaned into our most valuable resource: each other.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michele Roberts is the Executive Director of the Central High School Foundation (CHSF), a nonprofit which supports Nebraska's oldest and largest public high school. She joined the Foundation in August 2010 as Development Director, and was named Executive Director in July 2011. During her tenure with CHSF thus far, Roberts has launched and completed a $19.3 million Central High School Arts and Library addition, which add 51,000 square feet of classroom and activity space to the high school's campus; a $1.4 million capital campaign to bring 21st century learning classrooms to Central, which included the installation of a campus-wide wireless infrastructure; and created the Generation "C" donor membership program, which provides unrestricted dollars to the school for classroom and teacher grants. Prior to joining the Central High School Foundation, Roberts served as Director of Basketball Operations for the Women’s Basketball Program at Iowa State University, and taught at Central High School from 1996-2003. Michele holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and a master’s degree in Education from Iowa State University.
By: Joanne Couvrette, Canyon Crest Academy Foundation
On Monday, March 16th, 2020, like other schools in Southern California, Canyon Crest Academy, the #1 public school in San Diego (Niche Schools 2020), closed its doors to prevent the spread of Covid-19. What could the Canyon Crest Academy Foundation do to maintain, if not strengthen, the close community culture that parents have come to expect. The CCA Foundation is the on-site, non-profit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for students through financial, volunteer and community support.
“Our mission is to enrich the experience of every student, every day,” said Joanne Couvrette, Executive Director of the CCA Foundation. “Our new challenge was how to do that in a virtual environment. First step, set up a new communication portal for parents and students. Second step, listen. So we listened, and we heard their concerns and their needs, and we are helping where we can help.”
The CCA Foundation quickly stepped in and created Facebook groups for the parents of each graduating class beginning with the incoming 9th graders. Newer CCA parents could get input, advice and get to know their peers. Parents have been able to share information during this unusual time in their children’s lives. In fact, senior parents were able to collaborate on a congratulatory yard sign spearheaded by the CCA Foundation. The Facebook Page has become a destination for proud parents to post their kid’s photos and college acceptance announcements! They are able to navigate the various challenges of distance learning and safety issues.
To further expand community reach and highlight the accomplishments of CCA alumni, the Foundation set up the CCA Alumni Page “My CCA Story” which quickly grew to 250 members who were eager to reconnect and chat. Alumni quickly asked how they could help CCA students during the pandemic stay-at-home orders. A plan was hatched! Many Juniors and Seniors had planned to visit college campuses and/or attend admitted student days, especially during Spring Break, which never happened.
The Foundation scheduled 3 Zoom Meetings for CCA Juniors/Seniors that featured CCA Alumni who attend(ed) UC Schools, Private Schools, Public Schools, and Community Colleges. The Zoom sessions included a total of 300 student attendees and 50 alumni panelists! Among the colleges represented were USC, UCLA, Michigan State, University of Oregon, Harvard, SDSU and many more. Students discussed campus life, course selection, and the effect high school had on their college choice and subsequent adjustment. Email connections were made, and everyone agreed that future contact would be made - some IRL (in real life).
When it became clear that the main fundraising event of the year for Canyon Crest Academy had to be canceled, the Foundation re-imagined its FIRST ANNUAL VIRTUAL GALA, complete with an auction and live entertainment by two-time Grammy winner, Laurence Juber, who has played with three of the Beatles - Paul, George, and Ringo! The event featured a pre-recorded segment with student and teacher testimonials, original student artwork inspired by life during the COVID-19 crisis and much more. The one hour program raised over $82,000 thanks to incredible sponsors, parents, and community members!
It has become a tradition at Canyon Crest Academy for parents to drop their teens off on the first day of school and then be welcomed with a continental breakfast hosted by the CCA Foundation. On the first day of school, August 25, 2020, the tradition was upheld, albeit with some changes in order to keep the community safe and virus-free.
Vidya Werry, the CCA Foundation Board President, and CCA Foundation Executive Director, Joanne Couvrette, along with Foundation staff and other board members greeted parents in front of Starbucks in Carmel Valley at the Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch. Coupons for free coffee, courtesy of Starbucks, were given to parents from behind plexiglass screens, and everyone was wearing masks. Foundation information was safely distributed, and parents who donated “a dollar-a-day for CCA” received a specially-designed CCA Foundation mask.
The Welcome Coffee was followed a few days later by a Zoom Meet & Greet, which was attended by almost 300 parents. There, parents were able to get their questions answered about Distance Learning, Athletics, Academics, and Foundation programs, both in school and out.
These are just some of the programs - there was a car parade for the Class of 2020, Take Out Tuesdays, a weekly fundraiser with participation from local retailers and restaurants - which have made it possible to continue to fulfill the Foundation’s mission to “enrich the experience of every student, every day.”
The Foundation raises the funds necessary to support the spending priorities determined by CCA’s principal and staff, mostly through parent contributions, and collaborates with students, parents, staff, and the local community to assist CCA with its volunteer needs. Every student at CCA benefits in some way from the generous donations made by CCA families and the community to the Foundation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joanne CouvretteJoanne Couvrette has a twenty-year career as a non-profit executive, and is in her 10th year at the Canyon Crest Academy Foundation. Couvrette started her career in management for a Fortune-100 company, and was the chief executive of a successful small business prior to entering the nonprofit world.