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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Updated June 13, 2016 |
Major Gifts to Private Schools
The only way private schools can build their financial security is through gifts. Major gifts offer proof of how deeply many donors feel about their private schools. Their munificence is a wonderful example to others.
Several private schools have received major gifts over the past several years. For purposes of this article we shall define a major gift as one million dollars or more. In addition to highlighting the generosity of the donors we also want to illustrate how the gifts are being used.

If you attended a private school and can afford to make a major gift to your alma mater, call your head of school. Discuss it with him or her. Once you get some broad agreement about how your gift can be used, then work out the legal and financial details with your advisers. The estate planning and tax consequences of a major gift are far too complex to be left to chance.

If you are a fund-raiser at a school, assume nothing. That shy 3rd grader who became a school teacher and never married just may surprise you. On the other hand the 8th grader who became a famous Wall Street trader may or may not have the means your school teacher alumna has. Cultivate everybody who attended your school. If they live far away from the school, Facebook and Twitter will keep them involved if you use those social media imaginatively and tastefully. A monthly email and an annual mailing via snail mail will complete the communications side of things. We'll look at some of the other things a private school can do to raise money in a separate article.

Finally, this article is aimed at
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Updated June 24, 2014 |
Preventing Cyberbullying
Bullying has gone electronic. It's called cyberbullying and it is rampant.
Bullying has been part of our lives since time began. Bullying goes by different names and takes several different forms. But whether you call it intimidation or threatening, whether you do it verbally or simply with your body language, bullying is upsetting and unnerving behavior. Fortunately it is completely unacceptable in most private schools.

So, where does cyberbullying fit in? Cyberbullying or bullying done electronically is extremely difficult for adults to detect. The reason why is that cyberbullying lurks in the virtual shadows created by Facebook and cellphones. Unless you are a fan of somebody and can monitor their Facebook account or have access to their cellphone, you cannot definitively prove that cyberbullying is actually happening.

The Forms of Cyberbullying

Sexting is the texting of sexually explicit messages or transmitting sexually explicit photos via cellphone. The problem with all these electronic forms of bullying is that once they are transmitted they are archived on a server or servers somewhere in cyberspace. Put another way, if you send a nude photograph of yourself to a lover via your cellphone, how do you know that it hasn't been forwarded to somebody else. What if you have a fight with that lover and he decides to take revenge. Well, it's not a pretty picture.

Teens, and girls in particular, seem to be more susceptible to this form of bullying. That's because they take cellphones and other forms of electronic communication for granted. Many girls feel that sexting
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Updated June 13, 2016 |
Raising Money for Your School
Raising money for the newer, small private school is a job for professionals. We examine the three major components of private school fund-raising.

Raising money for non-profit organizations such as private schools has never been tougher or more complicated. A series of major disasters both at home and abroad can have a negative impact on fundraising efforts, so connected has our global community become.  However, the advantage private schools have is their built-in donor pool. Alumni and alumnae, parents, grandparents, and friends comprise this group of past, present and future donors. The trick is to figure out how to get them giving consistently and in line with their financial resources.

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. These are schools which rely heavily on their top administrators and small support staffs to handle all the development and fundraising needs. These dedicated people are, for the most part, experienced professionals who believe in what they do. They also know that their donor base has significant potential, although just how large that potential is unknown. Even more, vexing is figuring out how to reach those donors capable of making major gifts.

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

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Updated June 11, 2016 |
Developing A Strategic Plan
Developing a strategic plan is an exercise your school will probably undergo once a decade or so. Read what Alan Kennedy has to say on the subject.
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 plan will
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Updated June 25, 2014 |
Does Your School Avoid Politics?
Does your school avoid politics? You might want to make sure it does if you are set up as a non-profit corporation.
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 record those memberships
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Running a Private School


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.


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.