Beware the Shortcuts
by Gerry Ebbers, SCSBC Consultant for Stewardship & Development ◊
When Christian schools in BC began to receive government funding for operating costs some 30 years ago, there was an audible sigh of relief from board members who had been responsible for fundraising to cover the difference between operating costs and what parents could afford for tuition. After all, no one likes to ask for money. So the time of annual drives and fundraising banquets came to an end as schools thrived in a time of government support and increasing enrolment.
Over time a lot of “small” fundraisers crept in as boards, reluctant to get back into fundraising, allowed teachers to raise money for trips and projects. As well, insufficient operating budgets forced staff and parents to raise money for library books or furniture for the staff room or whatever. (Check your school’s history and you’ll find lots of examples.)
Eventually these shortcuts in good fiscal and development policy led to our current situation:
- There are so many fundraisers going on that parents are tired of the constant “asks” and the dollars being raised annually are decreasing;
- We don’t look any different from our local public school when it comes to the plethora of stuff we sell or the “thons” we run;
- We can’t raise the significant money we need for capital projects because we have lost our connections to our broader supporting community (former parents, alumni, grandparents, churches);
- Our parents see our schools as a fee-for-service rather than as a broad-based community that is committed to Christian education;
- Our founders and grandparents are not including the school in their estate planning.
Development work is not hard work, but it is constant. It’s reminding people of the vision and mission of the school and inviting them to be part of it. No opportunity should be missed to communicate that message. It means staying in touch with parents after their children graduate, with alumni, and with that important founding generation of the school. How much money have we lost over the decades? When you include lost estate gifts, probably as much or more than we’ve received from the government.
Thankfully the situation is changing as boards recognize the importance of development and are willing to put the people and resources in place to make it happen. Schools that have made this change are seeing more funds raised through one or two good activities than from their previous multitudinous fundraisers. It took decades to lose the support we used to have and it will take a decade to get it back. We may be able to reconnect with alumni, but we’ve probably lost the support of former parents and founders whom we have ignored for decades. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes. And boards that reduce development resources and staff when the budget is tight or when enrolment decreases are simply “shooting themselves in the foot.” No business cuts its sales staff in order to get more sales, nor can a board expect more students or increased funds if it cuts its development staff. If you don’t do the right things now, the losses in the future will be even greater than what you have already experienced.