Running a Private School

Get help and guidance on running a private school. Find guidance and resources related to administration, fundraising and marketing. Explore strategic plan development, creative fundraising ideas and the latest technology uses in marketing.
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In this tough economy raising money for non-profit organizations like private schools has never been tougher. For purposes of this article our focus is not on the older, more established schools such as Exeter, Hotchkiss, Middlesex and so on. These schools have long histories of successful fund-raising behind them. Instead our focus here is on the thousands of much smaller, much newer, less financially strong private schools which serve communities all over the United States.

First of all, let's break our fund-raising into three distinct sections and understand what it is that you are trying to achieve with these critical but separate fund-raising objectives.

1. Annual giving
2. Capital campaign
3. Endowments

Annual Giving
Annual giving has to be something which every private school encourages constantly all year round. Here's a brief outline of how annual giving works..
 
  • Budget an amount which you need to help balance your budget.
  • Announce a target of at least 20% more than what you need to allow for shrinkage and unexpected events.
  • Divide that up into 12 monthly allotments. These monthly allotments can differ according to how your forecasting is done. For example, you might project a higher total for the month which has Reunion Weekend or some other annual event which draws in lots of your alumni and other supporters.
  • Put your annual giving information on a secure page on your website so that your supporters can give anytime they want to without having to write a check or speak with somebody.
 

There's
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Your worst nightmare is unfolding. The Board has asked you, as Head, to prepare a strategic plan for the school. Before you even start, consider these three tips.

1. Conduct a Rigorous Situation Assessment
A plan is only as good as the facts on which it is based. For this reason, a situation assessment is essential to support informed decision making in strategic planning. A situation assessment addresses three major topics.

Know the Board's Appetite for Change
Be sure to scope the Board's appetite for change. After all, the Board will ultimately be asked to approve the strategic plan and the allocation of resources to support its implementation. If the Board doesn't buy into your plan, then the strategic planning process could come to an inglorious end, when presented to that very same unsuspecting Board by the soon-to-be ex-Head. With the Board on your side, at least you can do some proper advance preparing and lobbying on issues you know the Board finds difficult to accept.

Document the Way Things Work Today
Don't assume that you - or anyone else, especially the Board - understands the way things actually happen at the school.
  • Prepare a detailed description of every major functional area.
  • Include everything from the administrative functions through to the academic functions.
  • Identify who is responsible for the functional activity, the activities being managed, the way the activities are managed, staffing, and budget.
Without these descriptions in hand, it becomes almost impossible to describe how any change proposed in the strategic
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Does your school avoid politics? You might want to make sure it does if you are set up as a non-profit corporation. If your school is exempt from taxes under the provisions of Section 501 (c3) of the Tax Code, it must refrain from conducting political activities designed to influence political elections.
 

Intramural elections are exempt
Putting up posters and holding rallies for student council president are not generally considered a violation of the 'no politicking' provisions of the law. Internal or with in the bounds of the school community activities are acceptable. Read Rules for Exempt Organizations During an Election Year for further guidance.
 

Politicking for local, state and federal issues and candidates forbidden
In an election year where emotions are running high and record numbers of young people are being drawn into the process, you need to be very careful that your school complies with the law. Make sure you state your policy clearly in the school's handbook. Enforce that policy. The last thing you need is for somebody to file a complaint with the IRS and put your tax-exempt status in jeopardy.
 

Prove your 'no politicking' policy in your Form 990 filing
Schedule A of Form 990 gives you a place to document your 'lobbying' activites or lack thereof. Remember: your school's membership in NAIS and other regional independent school organizations can be construed as 'lobbying'.  Generally the amount spent on memberships is relatively insignificant when compared to your overall expenditures. Just be certain to
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Douglas Halladay heads The Halladay Group, a consulting firm which specializes in all aspects of private school operations. We asked him how to advise a board of trustees on a headmaster search. His answers follow.
 
We aggressively seek candidates for you who combine strong administrative skills and outstanding management abilities with dynamic leadership experience. Included below is the model that we utilize.

Step 1: Initial Meeting

During our first meeting with the client, we review your organization regarding the position to be filled. We also seek to understand the organization's environment, which includes learning about the culture, norms, philosophy, history, work atmosphere, and personalities of the people and community this person will work for and with, as well as coming to know what causes individual success or failure at this organization and thoroughly understanding the vision of the organization. If confidentiality allows, we spend time with the supervisor and peers of the position in order to determine the management's style and personality. Since our goal is to find someone in whom the community will have confidence, both in ability and in style, this part of the process is crucial.
 

 

Step 2: Position Profile

HEG next prepares a Position Profile that describes the client organization, details the nature of the position, the key issues facing the new leader, and the qualities and experience possessed by the ideal candidate. This document, once approved by the client, serves as the primary instrument to communicate the opportunity during
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You have spent a year as trustee of St. Etheldreda's. You have attended all the meetings. Recently you were appointed to the finance committee. The nagging question keeps chewing at you. "How do we know that our employees aren't stealing from us?" After all, hardly a day goes by without yet another report of some trusted employee stealing from one organization or another.
 
You simply have to ask these tough questions of your business manager and your auditor.

1.   Does one person have control over all of your accounting functions?
2.   Are two signatures required on checks over a pre-determined amount - say, $500?
3.   Are checks ever pre-signed?
4.   Are your bank accounts consolidated so that your book keeping accurately reflects the school's true financial position?
5.   Is there petty cash lying around?
6.   Are different people assigned to the deposit and account reconciliation functions?
7.   Do you have a purchase order system?
8.   Does your committe review expenses and supporting vouchers carefully and frequently?
9.   Does an outside auditor review your books annually?
10. Do you run background checks and speak to references before you hire?
 

Insist that your school be run like a business
Some schools find it difficult to implement standard business practices. Even when they do, they can find it even more difficult to stick to those practices. Be careful of the trusted old employee who's been there forever and resists your updated business procedures. Reassigning him or her to some other function and
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Running a Private School

Administrative

Here you'll find information on the administrative side of running a private school. We'll cover strategic plan development, state regulations, human resources and school safety. Learn more about the obstacles of taking over a struggling school, get tips on hiring a headmaster, and receive expert advice on dealing with bad press.

Fund-raising

Private schools often need to be creative when it comes to funding. This section provides tools, tips and resources on fundraising. Learn more about supporting your school, how to handle major gifts, and why keeping in touch with graduates can benefit your budget.

Marketing and Technology

Advances in technology have changed the way businesses market themselves. This section provides tips on social media marketing, information on the latest technology being used and SEO basics for private schools.