7 Essential Truths About Fundraising and Private School Admissions

The barrage of emails, mailings, and phone calls are familiar to all private preschool and K–12 parents.

These solicitations are the inevitable donation requests that you’ll receive from schools your children have attended, currently attend, or plan to attend. You may wonder: After all you’re paying in tuition, why do they come back for more?

Private Schools Are Expensive to Operate

The common claim made by private schools is that tuition only covers a portion of their operating expenses. This claim, anecdotally, seems to be true. Private schools are expensive to run for reasons many parents may not have realized. To start, there is the expense of purchasing, owning (or renting), and maintaining a school property, along with the insurance necessary to be in business. There are also salaries and benefits for faculty and staff. And recruitment isn’t cheap, either.

Suppose a school wants to expand its facilities. How will it pay for that new building or gym? Or what if it wants to offer need-based financial aid to eligible applicants? The board of trustees, in consultation with the school’s leadership, will decide how the school’s budget is allocated — but where are they going to get the funds to pay for these additional undertakings?

This answer is, in short, donations.

Top 7 Questions (and Answers) About Private School Donations

If you’ve ever wondered what’s required of parents, here are answers to seven of the most common questions we hear at Manhattan Private School Advisors on the topic of private school donations:

1. Are parents obligated to donate as well as pay tuition to the schools their children attend?

Absolutely not. Donations to private and parochial schools are not mandatory. A family’s financial obligation to these schools begins and ends with tuition.

2. Do parents face pressure to donate?

From the school itself, almost never. Private schools do not operate this way. Development staff are likely to ask for donations repeatedly. This may feel like “pressure” — but it honestly is not. School staff recognize that they will not receive donations if they don’t ask, but they also understand that there are families who will not provide financial support, for one reason or another.

School parents or Parent Association groups may be a different story. Officially, parent volunteers who take on the role of fundraising on behalf of the school are subject to the same rules that the school has established for itself: no pressure on non-donors. Unfortunately, how these parents behave privately toward both donors and non-donors sometimes deviates from these guidelines.

3. Do the children of large donors receive better treatment than the kids of parents who don’t donate?

Again, absolutely not. No school functions this way because it would be a public-relations disaster. The world of private schools is small, and word of favoritism based on parental donations would have a negative impact on a school’s reputation — among prospective applicants, current families, and other schools — for years to come.

4. What about parents who choose to donate a small amount of money to their child’s school?

This is fine. One dollar is better than no dollars (particularly for schools that seek to tout the percentage of student/alumni donors). Parents are always encouraged to donate what they can or are willing to give.

5. Are there non-monetary ways to donate?

There are many, particularly through volunteering and in-kind donations. The parent who helps out in a child’s class or organizes grade-level activities is as essential to the school community as a financial donor. Most schools cannot run successfully without parent volunteers, so don’t underestimate the value of this type of donation. In-kind donations, such as products or services that parents offer free of charge, are also critical to schools’ fundraising efforts.

6. Do private preschools tell the K–12 schools to which families are applying whether those families are donors?

They may, but this is not an important factor in successful preschool ex-missions (i.e., graduations) or private K–12 admissions. Preschools, moreover, will never attach a family’s donation profile to a school report. They are more likely simply to state that parents were “involved” in the school’s continuing development efforts.

7. Can parents “buy their way” into a school by offering large donations, either before or during the admissions process?

Once a child is accepted to a school, parents may donate as much or as little as they choose. Donating prior to admissions, however, constitutes a bribe and is prohibited. While instances of this behavior surely occur, it carries tremendous risks. A parent who attempts to make a large donation before her child is accepted faces the real possibility that the school will simply return her donation and reject her child’s application. Don’t gamble in this way.

A Final Thought

Many private schools in major urban areas like New York City have large endowments, for which the schools’ development staff must continuously fundraise. Families, who benefit from the programs and facilities that these monies make possible, will be asked to help support their children’s schools. If you choose to give financially to your child’s private school, it’s wonderful. But there are many avenues for your generosity — and schools value all of them.

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