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Top Trends in Advancement

Wednesday, November 1, 2017  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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What is a Head of School’s Most Significant Fundraising Challenge?

In April 2017, Linda Wise McNay, Ph.D., of Our Fundraising Search, and John Marshall, assistant head for development of Wesleyan School, conducted a survey of almost 400 heads of school to measure trends, challenges, and opportunities in independent school development and fundraising. The results were surprising and significant and shared with attendees at the 2017 SAIS Annual Conference.

The average school respondent was a 54-year-old day school with an average of 2,353 alumni. About half the schools have fewer than 500 students, 58% are K-12, and 62% have a budget less than $10,000,000.

Eight trends emerged based on information provided by the 161 SAIS schools in the Southeast who responded to the survey.

1. Head of school fundraising experience exceeds tenure.

The average head of school respondent has:

  • 7 years of experience as head of his/her current school.
  • 10 years total experience in his/her current school.
  • 11 years of experience in all his/her headships.
  • 14 years total experience in fundraising.

2. Most heads have major gift experience.

  • 7% of heads of school responding have never solicited a large gift.
  • 56% of heads of school responding have solicited gifts up to $500,000.
  • 28% of heads of school responding have solicited a gift of $1 million or more.

3. Development Committees are under-utilized.

  • 21% of schools reporting do NOT have a Development Committee.
  • 6% of schools reporting have a Development Committee which NEVER meets.
  • 22% of schools reporting have a Development Committee which meets to receive reports.
  • 48% of schools reporting have some Development Committee activities.
  • Only 3% of schools reporting have giving and getting required for Development Committee service.

4. The annual fund is critical to balancing the budget.

  • Respondents raised an average of $920,757.
  • The median was $350,000.

5. Email is the most popular fundraising tool.

  • Email is utilized by 86% of schools responding, followed closely by direct mail and personal solicitation. Online fundraising, events, phoning, and texting are also tools employed.
  • 50% of schools offer monthly giving as an option and 6% have tried crowdfunding with mixed results.

6. Capital campaigns are lagging.

  • Only 36% of responding schools are in campaign mode. 16% are considering. 48% are not raising capital funds at all.
  • Of those schools reporting, 56% raised less than $3 million in their last campaign.
  • Average debt of school respondents: $5,492,459.

7. The head’s most significant challenge is raising endowment.

  • Average endowment of schools reporting: $9,651,101. Median is $1,000,000.
  • All NAIS endowment: $21,692,898. All SAIS members $17,016,697. (DASL data)
  • 41% of schools reporting boast a planned giving program. 40% have none.
  • 30 schools are initiating planned giving programs.

8. Heads are spending more time raising money.

  • Heads of school responding spend approximately 27% of their time raising funds. The minimum is zero. The maximum reported 80%.
  • Most often (87%) heads sign letters/notes.
  • 70% of heads report meeting one-on-one with donors.
  • 68% attend cultivation events. 62% speak to groups.
  • 58% attend campaign/development meetings.
  • 22% report having no reluctance asking for gifts.


Given the results of the survey what should heads of school do differently going forward as it relates to fundraising for their schools? Heads of schools should spend more time raising money-closer to 50% than 25%. They should cultivate their alumni to encourage them to give back to their school now and in the future. Activate the school development committee/board. Provide fundraising training to staff and volunteers so that they may become more effective in their efforts. Grow the endowment through planned giving and hire the most qualified development staff available.


Feel free to contact Linda or John for any additional details about the survey results, or if you have additional fundraising questions for future research projects.

Linda McNay, Our Fundraising Search,, (404) 895-5942,

John Marshall, Wesleyan School,, (678) 474-6712

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