Capital Campaigns in Private Schools

Capital Campaigns in Private Schools

Many schools want to keep their tuitions as low as possible to attract the most diverse student and parent body possible, so raising their tuition costs is not always an option. Private schools do not cover all of their operating expenses from tuition payments; in fact, at many schools, tuition payments alone only cover about 60-80% of operating expenses, and therefore schools must also use fundraising efforts to cover their daily expenses. But what about special needs? Schools also need to raise money for future expenses, and to increase their endowments.

Private schools typically have an Annual Fund, which is a set amount of money that the school raises each year to cover the costs of educating their students that are not met by tuition and fees. But what happens when there's an extenuating need for renovation of facilities or purchase of expensive equipment? Those needs are typically met by what is called a Capital Campaign, a fundraising effort designed to cover the massive expense of renovating their current buildings, constructing new buildings, greatly enhancing financial aid budgets and adding to their endowments. But what makes a Capital Campaign successful? Let's look at what one school did to lead one of the most successful Capital Campaigns in private schools.

The Westminster Schools' Capital Campaign

The Westminster Schools, a co-ed Christian school in Atlanta, Georgia, for students in pre-first through twelfth grade, led one of the most successful private school capital campaigns in recent years. Westminster is one of only a few private schools that have managed to raise over $100 million as part of a capital campaign; the school has the largest endowment of any non-boarding school in the nation. Westminster Schools enrolls over 1,800 students on its 180-acre campus. About 26% of the students represent people of color, and 15% of students receive need-based financial aid. The school was founded in 1951 as a reorganization of the North Avenue Presbyterian School, a girls' school. In 1953, the Washington Seminary, a girls' school founded in 1878 that was the alma mater of Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, also merged with Westminster. Westminster Schools has long been a pioneer in Southeastern private schools, as it hosted a pilot program for advanced studies that eventually became Advanced Placement or AP coursework offered by the College Board, and it was also one of the first schools in the South to integrate in the 1960s.

According to its press release, Westminster Schools launched a capital campaign in October of 2006 and completed it in January of 2011, having raised $101.4 million in the midst of a recession. The “Teaching for Tomorrow” campaign was an effort to secure the best teachers for the school in the years to come. More than 8,300 donors contributed to the capital campaign, among them current and past parents, alumni/ae, grandparents, friends, and local and national foundations. The President of the school, Bill Clarkson, credited the school's focus on teaching with its success in raising funds. He believed that the campaign's emphasis on excellence in teaching enabled the campaign to raise funds, even in difficult economic times.

According to an article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, $31.6 million from the Westminster Schools' capital campaign will be dedicated to faculty hiring, $21.1 million to constructing a new junior high building, $8 million to continuing the school's commitment to diversity, $2.3 million to promote global awareness, $10 million for community service programs, $18.8 million to foster annual giving, and $9.3 million in unrestricted endowment funding.

The school's current strategic plan calls for an increased focus on globalization, including teaching its students to thrive in an interconnected world; on technology, including teaching its students to understand how to deal with the increasing complexity of technology; and on educational research and conducting studies to determine whether teachers are using the most effective methods of instruction and whether the school's current methods of assessment are truly helping students learn. As the school passes its 60th anniversary, the success of its capital campaign is helping it achieve its strategic goals.

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski - @stacyjago