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Fast Stats 2014 November, Vol. 1: Fundraising
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Philanthropy in Independent Schools:
A 20 Year Look

FastStats by: Jeffrey Mitchell, Currey Ingram Academy
Published: November 2014

This issue of FastStats analyzes the 20-year trend for participation rates among four key constituent groups (trustees, current parents, faculty/staff & alumni). What does the data indicate regarding trends in giving at independent schools? Additionally, is there any evidence of a difference among major constituents in independent schools? 

You see in Figure 1 that trustee participation has gone from almost 100% in the first 10 years of this analysis to 100% for the last 10 years, for both NAIS and SAIS schools. Needless to say, it does not get better than that. This is indicative that trustees in independent schools understand the importance of modeling giving as a governance standard, and the message seems to be ubiquitous.

Figure 2 shows the participation rates of current parents over the past 20 years in both NAIS and SAIS schools. Notice that overall participation rates have gone up marginally in NAIS and not at all in SAIS schools. Although there is not much of a difference, NAIS current parents seem to give at a slightly higher rate than SAIS current parents.

Figure 3 shows faculty/staff participation rates. In the first four years of the analysis, the values were zero for both NAIS and SAIS schools. This is likely due to the fact that DASL did not ask for this data. From 1997-1998 to the present, there has been a steady increase in the participation rate of faculty/staff in independent schools. As of 2013-2014, SAIS participation rates are hovering at or very close to 100%, and NAIS schools are not far behind. This is likely the result of a concerted effort by heads of school and the development offices of independent schools who recognize the value of faculty/staff giving back to the school, no matter the amount. Also interesting to note is that SAIS schools seem to have historically outperformed NAIS schools on this variable.

Figure 4 is very interesting in that it shows a pretty steep decrease in annual fund participation rates over the past 20 years for alumni/ae in both NAIS and SAIS schools. I really have no explanation as to why this is the case, especially considering the fact that, if anything, tremendous resources have been dedicated to independent school development departments to increase giving at all levels.  

It is important to note that participation rates do not necessarily reflect total giving. You would need to look at the amount given. Figure 5 shows the 20-year trend for the total amount given to the annual fund. You will notice that the overall amount given to the annual fund has increased steadily from a median of approximately $300,000 in both NAIS ans SAIS schools in 1993-1994 to a median amount of $600,000 in NAIS schools and $500,000 in SAIS schools. Thus, although participation rates have been pretty flat for the past 20 years, the total amount given has gone up considerably, although there remains a gap between NAIS and SAIS schools. 

To get an even better picture, you needs to control for enrollment growth because it only makes sense that with the brisk growth in enrollment in independent schools over the past 20 years, annual giving would grow simply as a result of more families being involved. You also needs to account for inflation to get a sense of the absolute value of the money coming in. Thus, Figure 6 depicts the trend in total amount given, controlled for enrollment, and also adjusted for inflation. The solid lines represent NAIS and SAIS schools’ total giving when controlling for enrollment growth. Thus, even when enrollment growth is considered, the per-student amount given has gone up from about $825 to $1,550 in NAIS schools and from $500 to $675 in SAIS schools since 1993. To determine how the trend for giving has stood up to inflation, you can look at the dashed lines on the graph and compare them with the solid lines. For NAIS schools, the amount given per student remained relatively the same when inflation is accounted for, except for the last eight years where it seems giving has outstripped inflation. Thus, even when enrollment and inflation are accounted for, more revenue is coming in via the annual fund in NAIS schools. In SAIS schools, as can be witnessed by the close proximity of the solid and dashed red lines, giving has not outpaced inflation. Thus, the value of what was given 20 years ago is almost identical to what is given now.

From this analysis, it seems clear that annual giving, both in terms of participation and total giving, has not changed much after enrollment and inflation are accounted for. There is also the good possibility that we have more people working in advancement per dollar earned than we did 20 years ago. In a previous FastStats article, I pointed out that, especially for administrators, there are more personnel per student in independent schools over the past 20 years. Thus, when all the monetary elements associated with the annual fund are considered, it might be the case that there’s a net deficit as compared to 20 years ago. Finally, if this analysis can be seen as a reasonable proxy of a societal trend in giving to charity, there is really no evidence that philanthropic activity has changed. 


Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell is the Head of School at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, TN. He can be reached via email at




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