The Importance of Philanthropy to Education

Judith R. Fox has enjoyed a successful career in education, as teacher, principal, school superintendent, private school head and executive director of an international leadership program for teens. She received a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University and a Master’s Degree and Professional Diploma in science teaching and school administration, respectively, from Queens College. Judy attended Teachers College, Columbia University, as well, from which she received the degree of Doctor of Education. A frequent speaker at education conferences, adjunct professor in school administration and workshop leader, Judy has been recognized nationally for her contributions, by professional associations and by her peers.

It is axiomatic that philanthropists want to have a positive impact on the world. One needn’t make a case for feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, treating the afflicted, contributing to disease research, building hospitals or rebuilding communities after a natural disaster. The importance to humanity of such endeavors is unarguable.
Less obvious, but as essential, is supporting educational efforts: schools, preschools, colleges and universities, libraries, museums, brain research, specialized programs, pedagogy, curriculum development, program evaluation, teacher evaluation.  The importance of education should be intuitively obvious. Politicians often talk about improving education; teachers’ unions describe the hard work of faculties; parents work to enrich the quality of the school experience for their children. Perhaps because talk about education is “in our faces” regularly, often the object of criticism rather than celebration, educational programs and institutions may not command the serious attention from donors they deserve.
The Case for Education
From our broadest levels of existence to the care of oneself, education is pivotal to society’s growth and development.

  • At its simplest, the future of our nation demands an informed citizenry.  Indeed, in a nation of immigrants, education is most effective route to responsible citizenship.
  •  Since so much of how we live is controlled by localities, we need an informed populace to govern our schools, zoning, land preservation, community councils, etc.; to serve on our police and fire fighting forces; to manage youth programs and senior citizen centers and the myriad other public institutions that ensure our quality of life.
  •  With science, technology and the information explosion central to decision making for oneself, one’s family and beyond, our teachers must be rigorously trained in keeping current with and conveying to students advances in these fields.
  • Jobs are passé. Our children require preparation for careers that demand thought leadership, problem solving, resource management and collaborative team building: competencies that may be broadly applied to multiple professional areas, rather than training in a narrowly applied skill.
  • At its most complex, the future of the world demands leaders in every field of endeavor: government, research, technology, diplomacy, religion, health care and in the field of education, itself. 

One might argue that the educational institutions and practices that have evolved over the past century or so have served us well enough to have produced today’s cadre of leaders, politicians, researchers, physicians, teachers and business professionals.  I would counter that there is abundant evidence that what we have today increasingly is serving a thin stratum of an increasingly polarized elite; that a majority of the world’s population is not only underserved, but actually ill served with respect to the skills and competencies needed to thrive.
Thus, we must grow our investment in educational efforts of all kinds in order to grow the progress of humankind.
What An Educational Fundraiser Might Do

  • Solicit funds, of course. But be specific about their purpose. Have a plan for demonstrating progress to donors.
  • Create a private foundation to supplement funds for public schools.  Many communities are experiencing a freeze on public funds available to schools.  Yet current teaching methodologies and materials are expensive. Nonprofit local foundations for education can raise funds for computers, musical instruments, science laboratories, professional development and other materials and efforts that are important, even urgent, but not affordable within the school budget.
  • Celebrate what’s going well.  Everyone likes to back a winner. Feature programs and individuals worthy of recognition.  This creates of culture of belief in the institution from within and without.
  • Words matter.  When you make a case, excite donors with language about the prospects for a dynamic enrichment of the educational experience as a result of their investment. 

Perhaps most important for fundraisers and lead donors is to believe that in time, a contribution to education will have a dramatic positive impact on the world…because it will.

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