Anatomy of the Ask: Annual Funds Dissected

Anatomy of the Ask: Annual Funds Dissected

By Randall Adams, Interim President, Academy of Notre Dame

What feelings does the phrase “Annual Fund” elicit when you see or hear it? It seems most people would say it evokes negative feelings because of the expectation of having to dish out more of their hard earned cash. Advancement professionals, on the other hand, would likely respond that, in fact, the phrase should create feelings of hope and gratitude. So let me help dissect the phrase and change the lens through which you view it: 

Why an Annual Fund?

All private schools engage in one some level of fundraising.  There are varying models across the country in school fundraising running the gambit from mandatory participation fundraising, event based fundraising, tithing, annual giving and major campaigns.  In the majority of private schools, the annual fund is the cornerstone for all fund raising. The annual fund establishes a core base of donors as well as building a foundation for a philanthropic culture within the school. Annual funds are driven by annual campaigns.

Annual Campaigns

Successful annual campaigns not only provide resources for services and programs for students, but also provide the school with the ability to fully realize their potential beyond the limitations of the annual budget.  Funding for innovative programs, teacher professional development, magnet programs, and facility improvements are often a component of annual fund objectives.  Annual campaigns also can keep tuition rate increases to a minimum by bridging the gap between the cost to educate a student and tuition revenue

Annual campaigns need to be well planned and thought out. In the absence of a comprehensive annual campaign, schools often focus on crisis fundraising. A successful fund raising program that is built around an annual campaign eliminates the propensity to use fear as a motivator to donors.  A fundraiser should never be built on the premise of “If you fail to give we will need to make cuts.”    A strong annual campaign will be a component of the annual budgeting process, and will allow for the ability to “stretch” budgets within departments and programs to ensure schools are able to not only meet the needs of their students, but to expand and grow opportunities for student learning to reach new levels of excellence within the school.  This is often referred to a as supporting the school’s “margin of excellence.”

Why do People Give?

People make philanthropic gifts for many different reasons. Primarily, donors are compelled to give because they share a common vision and passion for the school’s strategic plans, and they believe in the school’s desire, commitment, and ability to achieve their goals. Well defined goals are at the heart of a comprehensive strategic plan.   There must be a connection between the values and interest of donors and the short-range and long-range goals of the school.  This doesn’t happen organically.  Therefore, an annual campaign is more than an isolated series of special events, direct mail, e-mails, on-line giving, and other activities. It is a thoughtfully devised and executed plan that creates a substantial lasting base of advocates for the school that will result in philanthropic gifting in the form of annual gifts, bequests, and planned giving.

The Academy of Notre Dame  

As you may already know, we are currently in the process of completing a five to seven year strategic plan for the Academy of Notre Dame.  We are currently blessed with an incredible faculty, committed families, and students who are unparalleled in their ability and commitment to education.  We have a plant that offers abundant opportunity for the implementation of cutting edge educational programs and the addition of state-of-the-art learning spaces and labs.  However, our revenue from tuition is just enough to cover the cost of our current programs while paying our incredible teachers’ salaries that are in many cases below other comparable schools.  We also have an aging building that is in need of updating and improvement, but the expense of simply maintaining what we currently have puts a significant stress on our operating budget.  Due to the generosity of our incredible donors; alumnae, current parents, past parents, friends of the Academy, and the Sisters of Notre Dame, de Namur, we have made great strides over the past two years in making necessary repairs, upgrades, and some improvements. There is still a great deal to be done.

As we make progress on the creation of our strategic plan, know that we will leave no idea, dream, or innovative proposal on the table.  In order to give service to this, part of our strategic plan will include fiscal considerations and the development of short- and long-term goals and initiatives to meet the financial needs of the school.  Keeping tuition costs and fees at a manageable level will be a high priority.  To accomplish this, it will take a significant commitment from all stakeholders to contribute to the annual fund, as well as our annual fundraising events.  Together we will succeed in bridging the “margin of excellence,” and ensuring a bright future for the Academy of Notre Dame well into the future.  

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