Fundraising for girls’ schools

Fundraising for girls’ schools

Did anyone else at the fantastic REIGNITE International Conference in Adelaide notice how frequently the presenters were asked about the application of their ideas for fundraising to a girls’ school environment?

It seems that many of us struggle to see how we can emulate the successful campaigns being realised by our colleagues in boys’ schools. And that’s a reasonable doubt to have. After all, it remains rare to hear of mega gifts to girls’ schools, scholarships being endowed, or new sports centres being completed with tens of millions of donations from alumnae and parents.

Whilst we don’t yet have the data here in Australia, the findings of large-scale benchmarking studies in the UK by IDPE have been completely unambiguous: the boys schools are raising much more than girls schools (with co-ed schools sitting somewhere in between). However, the benchmarking also shows us there is more to the story than this…

As a consultant in the UK, I helped run benchmarking for the colleges of the University of Oxford. On more than one occasion the head of a prestigious and ancient college would remark in surprise at how they were being outdone by other colleges that were younger and less well known. Almost inevitably, the data showed that these high-flying colleges were the ones who had got out and met with their alumni, told their stories well, cultivated strong relationships and – crucially – asked more often and for bigger gifts. The lesson from this might sound obvious, but institutions that commit the time and resource to fundraising are going to raise more money.

And when you examine the UK school data you find that the boys’ schools have generally been fundraising a lot longer, and have much bigger teams. For example, the authors of the 2016 IDPE School Alumni Survey* observed that “the average philanthropic income per school increases the longer a Development Office has been operational”, and found that “the vast majority of girls’ schools represented in this report are at the very early stages of their development journey (on average their Development Offices have been established between 4 – 6 years), whilst Development Offices in boys’ schools have been established on average for 11 – 20 years.” They also found that boys’ day schools were investing on average nearly three times as much in fundraising as the girls’ day schools.

Here in Australia and New Zealand, the annual benchmarking of university fundraising conducted by CASE also shows an incredibly strong relationship between investment in fundraising and the level of philanthropic support received. Given the close fit with the UK school data, it seems reasonable to conclude that the same is likely to apply across the educational sector here, not just for universities.

This is a crucial lesson for our schools: if we allow our self-belief to be eroded by historic underperformance by girls’ schools, we risk perpetuating this gender imbalance, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that boys’ schools will always outdo girls’ schools when it comes to philanthropy. Instead, shouldn’t we embrace the example of our colleagues at the boys’ schools where they have invested consistently and heavily and are now reaping the rewards?

We also need to be direct in our communication with parents and alumnae – unapologetically explaining that our schools have a responsibility to be out there fundraising, to ensure that current and future generations of girls can enjoy the same opportunities as their brothers. Indeed, we need them to step up and be even more generous, because there’s already a big gap in the dollars that have been committed to the education of boys compared to that of girls, and this urgently needs closing.

For me, amongst the many valuable take homes from this year’s International Conference was the title of the Lauriston Foundation’s campaign, which beautifully encapsulates the message that needs telling louder and wider:

It’s Her Turn!

Paul Dennett | Director of Development at Queenwood School, NSW