Inside the Senior Gift Committee

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Senior Gift Committee

 

I have found that student leadership at Friends is what you make of it, but sometimes there are surprises. For example, If you are a co-president (like me) or a senate member, you are automatically signed up for the Senior Gift Committee. Until I got the email informing me where our first meeting was, I had completely forgotten I was on the Committee. At the time it was nothing but another bullet point on the endless to-do list that most first semester seniors will find themselves facing. But, the more time I spent in those meetings, the more invested I got, and the more questions I had.

For our first meeting, I was the first student to arrive at our new college counseling office. I didn’t really know what to expect, but Mr. Micciche’s attendance with four other adults from offices I’m not sure I knew we had, was not it. There were packets of information at every desk and a portable projector with a presentation ready at the back of the room. I shook a few hands, sifted through some papers, and grabbed a piece of pizza while we waited for the other students to arrive. They arrived slowly and not in the numbers we had hoped. Then the very intimidating presentation began.

What is the senior gift committee? It’s a collaborative fundraising effort between the senior students on the task force and the development office here at friends.  It was established in 1989, and takes the priorities identified by the School and the Board of Trustees and reaches a consensus on which priorities to pursue. I remember feeling mildly annoyed, bombarded by information, and uncomfortable with the language they were using. I came into the room ready to discuss, deliberate, contribute. Instead I was met with two options: new signage around campus or the mission fund, and the number $125,000. By the time I left the room I wasn’t really sure why I was there.

The meetings continued and my frustrations grew. I made a google form and sent it out to the grade. It went something along the lines of: option a or b? I wondered aloud how the $125,000 target was reached. I felt like a middle-man: asked to translate and deliver a message that I felt I was not involved in creating.. After months of frustration, I decided to try to understand what was driving all of this.

Although I had been meeting with Virginia Layfield all year, the day I interviewed her and Ashley Principe, was the first day I had a chance to openly communicate with her. Virginia has been at Friends for almost two years as the Assistant Director of annual giving, both of those years she has worked with the senior gift committee. Sitting next to her in an office on the second floor of the business office, was Ashley who I had seen around campus, and at the first committee meeting. After we had all gotten acquainted, Ashley explained the mission of the development office:

 

“To cultivate relationships, inspire philanthropic support and promote the transformative mission of Friends School among our internal and external communities. Together we commit to: steward relationships and resources, advance the strategic goals of the school, and promote, preserve, and celebrate the Friends School story.”

 

Ashley is the Director of Development; she is in charge of all of Friends Schools fundraising, alumni relations, and parent relations. Her job also consists of a fair amount of communications and marketing. Both very impressive women (I listed to all of their qualifications and decided they were too many to write out) work in the Development Office, one of two departments that make up the Business Office. The other office is HR. They work on providing funding for the dining hall, tuition, general fundraising, making sure the accounting books are balanced. Until that moment I had never thought about how all that behind the scenes stuff gets done.

 

I wanted to know about the start of the Senior Gift Committee: how did we get where we are today? They explained that it started with parents in 1989, with an endowed fund, to bring lecturers to school. Turns out it had always had student involvement.  How much involvement depends on any given year of students. But why bring in the students? Up to that point I didn’t feel like I was really contributing anything. Ashley took this one, she explained that an enormous part of the Development Department’s job was to keep the students connected to the school.

 

At this point I started to feel pangs of guilt. What I had interpreted as insincere was really an effort at developing a relationship between students and the development office. Noting that I had reserved my benefit of the doubt in the earlier months I moved on to my biggest frustration with the process: Why options? Why Signs or Mission Fund? What about my ideas? Ashley explained in the poised and concise manner that I became accustomed to over that hour:

 

“In independent schools, staff members are responsible for keeping these (fundraising efforts) going. We are making sure this stuff gets done, that is what our staff is for. We are not pushing an agenda or setting the priorities of the school, we don’t even decide where the money gets spent. Those decisions happen at the Board level, they are responsible for setting the long and short range goals for the school. Staff members are responsible for the ways of how those goals should be achieved.”

 

The Board. That was the missing piece of information. It had never occurred to me that the Development Office was being handed options too.  Maybe everyone else knew this but I didn’t:The board is responsible for the school, providing the resources Mr. Michiche needs to educate all of us. An important component of those resources comes from fundraising.  

 

Did you know that tuition doesn’t actually cover what it takes to keep the school running? It’s actually just under 4,000 dollars short, per student. Neither did I. The development office helps the board raise the money it needs to fund the school. The Board tells them that they need X amount of money for X things, and they deliver. The Senior Gift Committee, as well as being a way to leave a legacy, is another tool for that.

 

Along with the rest of my classmates, $125,000 goal sounded like a huge amount of money to me. There was some mention of a thorough and extensive process in which they come by this number, but how they arrived at that goal remained a mystery. Turns out it’s not much of a mystery. A big part of what the development office does is collect data. Data like how much money was given in years previous prior by our grade in combination with how much previous grades have increased giving for senior year. For example the class of 2016 parents gave $30,884 dollars their junior year but $120,860 their senior year. In 2016, the class of 2017 (the current seniors grade) gave $45,484. There are more data, but based on that information alone, it makes sense that our goal is $125,000 dollars.

 

It’s a major goal of the Development Office to connect with the students. So why was I, a student, after joining the Senior Gift Committee, feeling so left out. This was our parting discussion. How do we get the Development Office and the students connected. Virginia said that because they are neither faculty nor students and want to foster relationships, they start with the student leaders. So that’s why I was there. But why start senior year? In that hour I learned so much about what was going on behind the scenes at Friends to keep the lights on and everyone paid.

 

At the end of our meeting everyone was in agreement. The students need to meet the development office earlier in their Friends experience. Maybe in a seminar class, maybe in the form of a club. Ashley, Virginia and the rest of Development Office want us to contribute, and all I wanted out of that first meeting was the opportunity to. The next step is bringing the “behind the scenes” work out from behind the curtain.

 

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