Teachers as Fundraisers: How Catholic schools can find more money

May 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

The beach is upon us, and as summer approaches, it’s already time (long past time, actually) to begin imagining changes for next year. It’s a time for administrators and faculty to review the past nine months, to consider what classes to add and what classes to drop, which books to assign and which to drop, how to increase the applicant pool, how to assign better homework, how to build a schedule that accommodates the retreats, the prayer services, the games, the dances, the immersion trips, the holy days, the holidays, and the need to learn enough to impress a college.

When it comes to educational reform, many books and articles summon schools to adapt to developments in curriculum and technology, and a lot of the tinkering centers in these areas. But not as much attention is directed to other aspects of running a school that are equally critical. Here I want to touch upon one of the most prevalent issues in Catholic education and propose what, to most schools, would be a big and perhaps controversial change.

I am speaking of the money question. Catholic schools don’t function unless they collect tuition revenue and fundraise aggressively year-round. While some high schools and universities have a large alumni base and an endowment in the millions (or billions, in the case of Notre Dame, Boston College, and Georgetown), many Catholic schools survive on thin margins. They run deficits every year and have very little to spare. The financial situation is increasingly dire at the parish level, where schools continue to close.

Most institutions at the secondary level (the high school level) rely upon a core group — the president’s office and the advancement team — to raise money for the school. They bear the entire fundraising burden, and the teaching faculty and other administrators have no responsibilities in this regard. But if schools need money, they might consider a change.

Let me start by way of analogy. My good friend and colleague says that for campus ministry to flourish, for schools to grow the faith life of their students, all faculty must become (in his words) roving chapels. Campus ministry, he says, cannot be confined to a few members on campus or to Mass days or retreats. Church has to be everywhere. Students have to encounter “houses of faith” throughout the day, through all their teachers and classroom experiences.

I agree with him, and I think Catholic schools should consider a similar principle when it comes to raising money. In other words, what if Catholic schools enlisted their faculties to help fundraise — and, in fact, made fundraising a requirement? I realize this would be met with opposition, some quite passionate. To ease the transition into the program, however, it could be a phased approach. For example, a school could introduce the program voluntarily for the first year and set a target fundraising goal for each faculty member. After that, the school could include the fundraising goal as a contractual requirement.

Suppose a school set the target at $1000 for each academic year. Faculty could meet this goal by deferring a percentage of each paycheck, or they could raise the money through conventional means (by phoning friends and family, or by soliciting donations through the Internet, through drives, etc.). As a basis for comparison, consider this: where I work, faculty receive two paychecks per month for a full calendar year. If you take $1000 and divide it by 24, you’re left with $41.67 per paycheck for the amount needed to generate $1000 in fundraising. Now, giving up over $80/month is no small beans; that money could be added to a retirement fund or pay essential bills. But faculty could switch it up. They could raise part of the money through paycheck deferral and part of it through donor outreach.

Regardless of the method, it could be done. Though many faculty would initially resist, I believe (or I’d like to believe) that most faculty could easily find ways to make the money. And for those who really resisted it, it could lead to some great conversations about mission, identity, and commitment.

And the results could be impressive. Imagine a Catholic high school with, say, 75 faculty members. Imagine if every year, the school could depend upon (at least) $75,000 from its faculty. If invested properly, that money could be an excellent source for financial aid, for technology upgrades, or for countless other improvements. As one colleague told me, “We could pay for a retreat house with that.” And he’s right: that revenue could easily cover a mortgage on a very nice property.

That this idea is controversial is unmistakable. The few colleagues to whom I mentioned it greeted the idea with a mix of intrigue and hesitation. One of my friend’s reactions is, perhaps, the one that would become most common. It essentially boiled down to this: But we already do so much! On top of teaching and coaching and proctoring and attending retreats and service trips, we now have to fundraise?

That’s a valid question, and I sympathize with its sense of feeling stretched. And my answer to those concerns coils down to this: Yes. We do have to consider this. Catholic schools don’t get money from the government. We depend upon the generosity of donors and the consistency of parents to pay tuition. And now, especially in light of the economy, it might be time for the faculty to re-imagine its role, just as we have to re-imagine our role in light of emerging curriculum models, new technology and the alterations demanded by the Internet age.

I don’t think this is as hard as it might seem. Schools can set up online databases where people can donate as easily as they can buy a song on iTunes. Moreover, with so many faculty searching for potential contributors, someone might stumble upon a few people who might want to contribute substantial sums or consider a recurring donation (there is another discussion to be had about what happens when a faculty member fundraises more than the required amount. Could there be a bonus structure, something along the lines of what happens in the corporate world? I know this kind of talk makes people head for the exits, but could we at least consider it?)Ā Enlisting faculty to donate would also, I believe, give teachers a more profound “buy-in” to the institution, a stronger stake in the venture. They would also identify more fully with what many parents have to go through when they try to pay tuition, which often involves a lot of asking around, a lot of humility and a lot of sacrifice.

What do people think? It might be just as helpful to shift the burden of proof: What are the reasons not to do this? What are the reasons not to require faculty to have to raise money? I’m still pondering this issue and open to competing positions.

Posted by Matt Emerson.




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