Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Endowments- Let's Start Thinking Big When Donating "Small"

I recently read about the Jewish Federation of NY sponsoring a matching endowment grant.  This is long overdue.  For generations, board schools and private schools across the country have had them.  I remember the impact an endowment made on my time at the Peddie School, an independent boarding school in Hightstown, NJ.  Walter Annenberg donated 100 million dollars to the endowment there.  In doing so, he allocated the funds (money gotten from the investments made with that money) be spent on scholarships and teacher professional development.  As a result, the subsequent year, over 60% of the student body received financial packages.  This enabled the school to dramatically diversify in a way its founders over a hundred years before probably never imagined.  That enriched our experience tremendously and increased the urban and foreign student count tremendously.

It gave my then teachers the ability to travel to different areas of the world during their summer and winter breaks and really embrace the craft and content they taught.  I remember my science teacher was able to go do research in a lab and brought back findings, taught us new procedures, and an newfound energy and enthusiasm about her craft.  It enabled my history teacher to spend the summer on dig and bring back artifacts, photographs, and really personalize history for us students.  Furthermore, it enabled the school to finally fix the theater/auditorium which was in dire need of repair and paint the chapel that had long since seen a better day.  The money came from not having to allocate those two line items into the school budget anymore, therefore freeing up the school budget for repairs, improvements, and much more.  (I want to talk more about content special PD in a later post because I think it is underfunded and undervalued.)

I remember meeting the man once when he came to campus.  He spoke in the chapel, the central area for all town meetings in school where speakers all came.  His very presence was a humbling experience.  Here was a man who had been the US delegate to the UN and was involved in creating TV Guide.  He was extremely successful and by all accounts at the end of his life, in need of nothing, and yet he decided to give so much to his old school.  Interestingly enough, he struggled throughout school with very severe dyslexia and a host of other probably undiagnosed learning issues and despite never graduating from our school, he wanted to thank those who helped shape him into what he was. He valued education even though he clearly had difficulties with the system.  He wanted the best for so many more.

When our family first because religious and we moved to Teaneck, we were immediately shocked to find out all schools did not have this.  Imagine what having scholarships and PD covered by endowments could do for our yeshivas.  I can think of the money that could go towards creating more robust science labs for all grades, maker spaces for all grades, real STEM programs for all grades, certificate programs for high schools, social science research labs, and much more.  We can create real campuses for schools with real arts and sports programs.  It could stabilize expenses or even cut costs. We need to start thinking about ways to encourage people to leave money in their wills for schools endowments.  We need to encourage people to think big when donating small.  Our schools can become so much more if we have the fiscal foresight to make this possible.