From the Second World War until the mid-1990s, independent school education was largely predictable. Not so in the years since NBOA has been in existence. In the past 25 years, the industry has faced the facilities arms race, rise of the internet, declines in enrollment, declines in head tenure, the rise of Donor Advised Funds, and the significant rise in financial aid need and demand. This is not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of the above trends have been weathered to one extent or another by a partnership between the chief business officer and chief advancement officer. Whether it’s facing a global financial crisis or a global pandemic, funds to offset costs or bring in financial aid dollars have been raised and accounted for. When everyone suddenly needed a new STEAM center to compete with the school down the road, operations and advancement came together to devise and deliver on a plan to fund and build it. When the first philanthropic gifts came in from South Korea or China, the business office figured out the transfer process. Onward we have marched, (somewhat) in-step, throughout various peaks and valleys in this chaotic period of our history.
Many of these examples happened due to an accidental partnership. It’s been said before but is worth repeating: the personalities of leaders in independent schools often drive the success of a working relationship, rather than the roles themselves dictating how individuals and teams should collaborate. If the chief business officer and director of philanthropy build affinity and trust, that relationship tends to be both productive and fruitful. If the opposite is true, there’s often high turnover on both teams, and the school generally suffers.
In the next 25 years of our collective trajectory, what if we were intentional about this relationship and its importance to the school? What if we sought out meaningful relationships with our counterparts in finance, enrollment and advancement, as those who both manage and generate revenue? How much more might we be able to do?
I ask these questions because the rate of change we’ve experienced is unlikely to slow. The genie isn’t going back into the bottle. To survive and thrive in the next two decades, our revenue teams will have to be energetic, innovative and committed to one another’s success. We will have to trust in one another’s expertise and intentions on behalf of the mission. Given all this, let’s work together to change the operational paradigm and ensure success in the next 25 years.
Here are some ways we can work on building the best possible relationship:
- Stewarding Donor Dollars: Financial Principles for Contributions (NBOA online course)
- “Advancing the Bottom Line: Integrating Advancement and Enrollment” (Net Assets Nov/Dec 2021)
- The advancement chapter of “The Business of Independent Schools: A Leader’s Guide” (NBOA book, 2022)