Many of our development colleagues in Philadelphia-area independent schools have recently welcomed or will soon bring in new heads of school. Typically, the school’s Board will seek advice from development staff on ways to effectively introduce a new head to the school community, ensuring that he or she quickly gets to know key donors and trustees. This creates a particularly fitting opportunity to communicate with your donors and make them feel an important part of the welcoming process. It’s also an excellent chance for the new head to meet a range of your constituents and glean inside information on the school from many perspectives.
It’s wise to develop a written transition plan (often with a transition committee) that’s mutually beneficial to your head and your ongoing development efforts. You need to think strategically – both from your donors’ perspectives, considering their expectations and interests – and from the head’s perspective in terms of multiple demands on his or her time.
You can help your new head by managing donor appointments – scheduling meetings with trustees first, for example, starting with committee chairs and briefing the head thoroughly before any donor meetings by providing background information. You may also be asked to advise the head on communications: letters, email, press interviews and perhaps a short video sent out electronically and put on the website.
Just remember to use the head’s available time wisely and pace donor gatherings, especially out-of-town travel; with many already scheduled school events, the head’s introductory months can be exhausting. The good news is that your parents and alumni will welcome any contact with your new head, and all events during this period will double as celebrations.
The transition period will likely be followed by a new strategic vision and plan for the school, and that in turn is often followed by a capital campaign to fulfill that vision. Your engagement and guidance from a development perspective is critical to a successful transition, and your knowledge of the school community is invaluable to your new head of school. Be sure to take advantage of the many ways to enhance this opportunity.
Schultz and Williams is able to provide examples of special events, letters and announcements welcoming a new head of school.