Why Is My Kid’s Private School Asking For More Money?: FAQ about fundraising at independent schools

You started paying tuition for your child’s private school education, and now you get a letter from the school asking for a donation. Or maybe a fellow parent just called to ask for you to support the annual fundraiser. Why do some schools charge tuition and then ask for more money?

The answer lies in the budget. Private, not-for-profit schools rely on philanthropic contributions to meet their annual operating budgets. While tuition dollars cover most expenses, they typically do not cover all, leaving a gap in the budget. Schools fundraise to help make up the difference. Many independent schools solicit donations for their Annual Fund, an unrestricted revenue stream, to supplement the budget. Annual operating expenses are greater than tuition dollars coming in, and that’s where the annual fund kicks in.

At independent schools, annual fund donations work like tuition dollars in the budget. Contributions help cover the costs of salaries and benefits, technology upgrades, educational programs, professional development for faculty and staff, financial aid, campus upkeep, and more. 

Maybe your next question is, “Why don’t schools just raise tuition to cover costs, instead of fundraising?” Independent schools are communities and value and care for the individual students and families that make up their schools. Raising tuition to fully cover operations could make the school unaffordable for some families and change the makeup of the student body and community. Schools strive to set a reasonable tuition and also set aside funds in the budget for financial assistance for families (at many independent schools, a quarter or third of families receive some sort of aid). Schools ask those families who have room in their personal budgets to give generously above tuition. While tuition dollars are not tax deductible, donations are, for the most part.

Annual funds also provide a platform for independent schools to respond quickly to emerging needs and opportunities. With the money raised, schools can invest in new programs, purchase new equipment, or provide additional resources for students and teachers, as the budget allows. This flexibility allows independent schools to stay at the forefront of educational practices and prepare students for their futures.

Because every student benefits from the annual fund, schools will usually ask every family to support the fund, along with alumni, grandparents, and community members. Participation demonstrates a commitment to the school and its mission. Schools strive for high participation to underscore the strength of their community.

Last question, “How much should I give?” The right amount is one that is personally meaningful. Most schools have giving levels that can help you determine what the need is. Some schools might ask you to consider a specific amount to help them reach the budgeted goal. When in doubt, ask the school’s advancement or development staff. They should be able to share more information about the school’s finances and goals that can help you make an informed decision.

So, next time you get that solicitation letter, email or phone call, think about the education and all the benefits your child is receiving at their school. Consider what you can give to ensure it continues for your child and their peers, knowing your support really does make an impact.

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