Fundraising Campaigns in Our Schools: Alumni Family Giving, Building a Bright Future by Connecting to our Past
Since its first graduating class in 1974, the Gottesman RTW Academy, formerly the Hebrew Academy of Morris County, located in Randolph, New Jersey, has had almost 500 eighth graders move up to high school and beyond. The impact that this school has had on those students’ lives and perhaps, just as importantly, on their families, is immeasurable.
Last year, the Gottesman Academy had its most successful Shomrei Torah campaign, our annual fundraiser, ever, raising $231,000. And to make this even more remarkable, it was a year when the school launched its $23+ million capital and endowment campaign, entitled Our Future Together. Of course, the school went to its usual supporters, current parents, for support, but its success is really due to the support it receives from its alumni families. What better way to honor the place you used to call home than to give something back?
These alumni families show how much they valued their experience at this community day school with their dollars. And this is well after the time that their children graduated. According to Naomi Bacharach, director of marketing and development, alumni families represent 35% of the donors and 54% of the total funds raised in last year’s Shomrei Torah campaign. For the capital and endowment campaign, alumni families are responsible for 38% of the donors and 88% of the donations and commitments to date.
Without counting the amazingly generous $15 million challenge gift from the Gottesman family that led to the school’s renaming, alumni families still represent more than 58% of the gift commitments to the campaign. Another measure of the school’s success with maintaining positive relationships with its prior families is that almost all of its past board presidents have committed to either a capital or endowment gift in the past five years. Leadership at the school works hard to connect, inspire and maintain friendships with as many alumni families as possible.
Merle Blackman, mother of a Gottesman alumnus, said, "The returns that Rich and I have received from the investment we have made in our children's education at Gottesman far outweigh any returns that can be measured in monetary terms. Our kids have grown into mature, independent and grounded young adults. We believe that their many years spent at Gottesman had a lot to do with this. Although now in college, they remain connected to the Gottesman community as we do. The friendships that our family has formed at the school will last a lifetime.”
This type of support does not happen by accident. In fact, the financial support from alumni families has been growing steadily over the past decade. Gottesman Academy believes that multiple strategies have kept it connected to its alumni families and former students.
First and foremost, the school is dedicated to providing its students with an excellent education and an enriched Jewish experience. A community-wide effort in Greater MetroWest called The Quest for Teaching Excellence is a program funded jointly by the Gottesman Family Supporting Foundation and the MetroWest Day School council for the past four years, and has been instrumental in raising the level of academics at the school. From the school’s families’ viewpoint, there is nothing that maintains strong ties than knowing that their children have been rigorously prepared for their high school and college experiences.
The school strives to maintain contact with its alumni from the moment they leave the school in eighth grade. Head of School Moshe Vaknin and Dean of General Studies Cheryl Bahar regularly visit recent graduates in their high schools. In addition, the Gottesman Academy introduced a supplemental learning program for graduates called PGLP (post-graduate learning program) where each week, high school students return to campus for a two hour Judaic studies class—and some social networking. Many graduates, some going back a decade or two, are regular attendees at the Chanukah programs, annual eighth grade Purim plays and graduations. The school regularly highlights alumni as speakers at all major events, reengaging alumni families and having them inspire current parents.
From a financial development perspective, the school views its current parents as future alumni parents and begins their donor stewardship while they are still “in the house.” The school has invested in donor management software and uses it effectively to track and solicit donations. Naomi Bacharach maintains that another contributing factor is the school’s excellent relationship with its alumni families and the practice of bringing alumni parents onto its board of trustees. There are currently nine alumni parents actively serving the school’s primary governing body. These former parents are representative of the long-term commitment that most families have to sustaining this very important central Jewish institution in Morris County. With its Our Future Together campaign and a new state-of-the-art facility opening up in September 2015, the school expects to be playing this role for the next 50 years.