The Spirit of Philanthropy

I want to reflect on the spirit of philanthropy in independent schools like BU Academy. While it is true we have a significant tuition, I think it is important to point out two facts: first, in relative terms to most prestigious peer day schools in the Boston area, the Academy is still a good value, especially given the notable tuition savings most of our students receive from their BU class credits later in their education. Second, we rely on our Annual Fund to supplement our tuition, so that even full-pay students have some “subsidy” from this other form of “income.”  It is about our Annual Fund that I would now like to share some good news.

Let me offer some background: In past years, we have grown our Annual Fund from about $170,000 to a high of $280,000 several years ago. Most recently, as we successfully raised $1.7 million for our first-ever Capital Campaign to create our exciting new Arts Floor, we reduced our Annual Fund goal to $225,000 for several years, since the same families tend to help with both needs…think of the Annual Fund as the “grocery budget” for operating expenses, while the Capital Campaign is more like a “college or retirement fund” for larger strategic needs above our day-to-day program…it requires discipline to fund both, without merely shifting funds from one to the other. Fortunately, we have been blessed with amazing participation in our Annual Fund: 100% of our faculty, an increasing percentage of our young graduates, and consistently 85% or higher of our current parents (a fact that is remarkable when you realize that national averages are more in the 65% range for parents). And our average gift size also tracks well by national standards.

Since our next Capital Campaign to support the current Strategic Plan is not yet up and running, we are working to regain our higher level of Annual Fund dollars. So our goal this year is again $275,000. To help us achieve that end, a former parent has stepped up with an amazing challenge grant of $20,000, contingent on our finding three other families to give at the $20,000 or above level for the first time. I am pleased to share that we have already found two of those three donors, and the original donor has therefore modified the terms of the challenge to allow me to invite the last slot to be taken either by a third new pledge of $20,000 or by two new pledges at $10,000 each or four new pledges at $5,000 each (“new” meaning from a family who had not previously given at that level). So I invite any of you who might be interested in helping us bring this challenge to a successful conclusion to let our Director of Advancement John Friborg or me know. And I invite all of our families to continue to support our Annual Fund, at least at previous levels and I hope at any increased level you are able to consider…everyone’s support is necessary to achieve our ambitious goal, and all of these dollars benefit the Academy (even though you might on occasion receive thanks and a tax notification letter from the University, which is the parent organization from which the Academy’s non-profit tax status derives).

So what might be the lessons to take away from this good news? First, we can emphasize that even past parents continue to be supportive, as well as current parents. Second, we all benefit and can be grateful when families who are able to help philanthropically do so (and all levels of giving are appreciated and needed, not just these high levels). And finally, we need to understand that our business model requires not just tuition income but also Annual Fund support to balance our operating budget. Such generosity is all the more helpful this year to offset less tuition income (given a slightly smaller freshmen class).

We are truly blessed with a caring community, and support of our Annual Fund at all levels helps to keep the Academy healthy and strong. Many thanks!

Warm regards,
James S. Berkman
Head of School