Patricia VoigtIf independent schools are to achieve their visions and secure their futures in today’s ever-evolving world, we must make a fundamental shift in our approach to our donors, our Boards, and our development plans—a shift from strategic planning to thinking strategically. The shift involves embracing short-term, action-oriented goals responsive to the rapidly changing times.

Making the shift to thinking strategically hinges upon identifying indicators of change. Think Uber vs. taxis, iPhones vs. BlackBerrys, urgent care vs. emergency rooms, swipe cards vs. tickets/tokens, and using bank cards for everything. These sorts of trends are upending our behaviors and require us to adapt accordingly.

In education, we debate the future: online courses, teachers who will evaluate proficiency instead of assigning grades, changing from traditional class time to block scheduling, for-profit schools, charter schools, home schooling—the list goes on. What are the trends you foresee? How do you adapt to change, and act?

Successful schools will collaborate with colleagues, communicate freely and openly with their parents and alumni, be creative in their willingness to embrace change and test the waters fearlessly.

We see the following advancement leadership approaches as essential to supporting the success of today’s independent schools:

  • Communicating a shared vision for the school’s future with your donors
  • Empowering your staff to take risks
  • Using new technology to unlock donor capacity, affinity and philanthropy
  • Leading change in your schools with confidence
  • Inspiring and demonstrating integrity daily

Two Examples of the New Norm

To dig a little deeper into today’s new norm for independent schools, we offer the following videos from two schools that have demonstrated success—one in its unique and successful approach to education, the other in building endowment. (Click on the school names to see the videos.)

 The Ron Clarke Academy

Math and history are just some of the subjects taught at The Ron Clarke Academy. The Atlanta middle school teaches everything from eye contact to the value of friendly competition, inspiring kids to attend class! The founder, Ron Clarke, a former teacher in Harlem, opened the school in a warehouse that was transformed.  His passion and energy infect students and teachers in novel ways. This is a school of the future!

 The Chicago Latin School

Chicago Latin recently completed a $50M capital campaign designated exclusively to raise endowment. The school offered donors the opportunity to fund programs, teaching positions and student scholarships into the future—NOT through planned giving, but with outright gifts. Donors are kept well informed about the return on the investment they made in the school.

Nearly all independent schools are seeking to increase endowment—for fiscal stability, for financial assistance for students as tuitions rise and, like Latin, to offer donors new awareness of how their funds are used.

Making the shift to short-term goals that lead to action requires agility and adaptability. Push for simplicity, clarity and focus; and continuously evaluate your fundraising efforts. If you dare to do so, you will ensure your success in today’s rapidly changing world.

Schultz & Williams Senior Consultant Patricia Voigt presented at the National Conference of CASE/NAIS (Council for the Advancement of Education and National Association of Independent Schools) in Anaheim, CA, on January 28. This article is a synopsis of her session on strategic thinking for advancement leadership, designed for senior advancement professionals and heads of schools.

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