WASHINGTON, D.C. — When alumnae converged on the rolling campus of Foxcroft School in the heart of Virginia's horse country last April, money might have seemed to be the last thing on their minds. The women visited classrooms and heard about collaborative learning techniques. They caught up with erstwhile roommates and marveled at how much the cafeteria food had improved. But amid this happy, homecoming atmosphere, they kicked off a record $30 million capital campaign.
The Foxcroft alumnae are in good company. A number of secondary schools and colleges for women around the country are setting historic fundraising targets - and reaching them.
Girls' schools still have a long way to go before they catch up to their coeducational and all-male counterparts, some of which are currently waging campaigns in the neighborhood of $100 million. But the gap is narrowing. Schools are benefiting from the fact that more women are earning salaries and making independent philanthropic decisions. And they are changing their fundraising methods, successfully appealing to women's traditional focus on the merits of a cause as well as the renewed interest in single-sex education.
The funding gap is not a result of weaker allegiances, according to Harvard University's Charles Collier, who consults on fundraising for a number of private schools. Like others in the field, he attributes it to the fact that, historically, women have donated more time than dollars to their schools.
The first sign that this was changing came from Wellesley College, in Wellesley, Mass. The school's five-year campaign set a new record in 1992 for all private, liberal-arts colleges by raising $168 million in cash gifts, primarily from alumnae.
Its success emboldened secondary schools. "Until the last decade, we did what women have done for many centuries," says Foxcroft's head of school, Mary Louise Lepheimer. "It wasn't polite to talk about money, so we never told people what it cost to make this grand experiment really work."
Eventually, however, girls' schools could no longer afford such gentility. At Chatham Hall in Chatham, Va., the need was so great that "we could have justified a $50 million campaign," says Jackie Crebbs, the school's director of advancement. Instead, it is aiming for a more modest $17 million, which is almost three times as large as its previous campaign. The Emma Willard School, in Troy, N.Y., raised its campaign goals from $23 million to $30 million. The highest goals it, and Foxcroft, had pursued in previous efforts was $7.5 million and $8 million, respectively.
Already, Emma Willard has collected more than $23 million for its endowment fund, and its annual giving has exceeded $1 million for three consecutive years. With one year still to go, Chatham Hall has raised $15.5 million in cash and commitments. And, just months into its campaign, Foxcroft has received its first seven-figure gift. The largest sum it had ever received in the past was $500,000.
These results recall the success of Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Conn., whose 1988-1994 capital campaign exceeded its projected $20 million goal by $1.6 million. This raised the total endowment to $32 million, currently the highest among all-girls' schools.
Pursuing a cause
Today's successes have not been merely a matter of schools overcoming their reticence to mention money. They have also questioned the old models for fundraising.
"Men," Mr. Collier observes, "are more likely to give out of blind loyalty, whereas women need to be persuaded of the rightness of the cause." Although surveys indicated that education ranks high among women's priorities, it is second to local projects that involve women and children.
To compete for money, schools have to show that they are making a difference. Recent research has made this task easier. Carol Gilligan of Harvard University was among the first to outline basic differences in the psychology of boys and girls in studies that she published in the early 1980s. This was followed by studies - spearheaded by a well-publicized 1992 American Association of University Women's report - which resoundingly declared that coeducational schools shortchanged girls. Traditional pedagogy catered to boys, and boys' more aggressive behavior overshadowed girls, who tended to lose self-confidence as well as concrete opportunities for leadership roles.
Although not all subsequent studies agreed, a general consensus emerged that an all-female environment benefits many girls. Even the US Department of Education weighed in, concluding in a 1993 report "that there is empirical support for the view that single-sex schools may accrue positive outcomes, particularly for young women."
But just as alumnae need to be convinced of the merits of all-girls' schools, they also demand a high degree of accountability. "They want to see what kind of students we're producing," says Gabrielle Gossner, director of development and external affairs at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. "They want to see a classroom in action. They want to see that we're balancing our budget."
At Laurel School, as elsewhere, the development staff spends much of its time compiling and distributing detailed information of the school, its programs and finances, its levels of financial aid, its prominent alumnae, and its students' college acceptances. It also emphasizes personal communications with handwritten postscripts.
Moreover, campaign literature painstakingly describes the projected allocation of funds, which includes maintenance of facilities, expansion of computer and science equipment, and a percentage that can be reinvested so that endowment can keep up with inflation.
The need for such personalized and informative exchanges explains why campaigns aimed at women do not follow the same timetable as those aimed at men. Men tend to respond with lots of money at the start of a campaign, experts say; potential women donors, on the other hand, raise questions, followed by more questions and dialogue - and only then do the dollars start flowing.
Understanding this has helped schools broaden the overall participation of their alumnae and has resulted in growing levels of annual giving. But this in itself would not greatly impact the long-term finances of institutions were not women also changing in fundamental ways.
"Women have discovered the connection between themselves, their money, and their power," explains Sondra Shaw, co-director of the National Network on Women as Philanthropists at the University of Wisconsin and co-author of Reinventing Fundraising: Realizing the Potential of Women's Philanthropy. She adds: "It's still a difficult subject in lots of cases; they tend to like 'influence' rather than power."
By either name, it boils down to women's growing awareness that they can have an impact. This translates into more joint family decisions, where husband and wife decide together how to allocate philanthropic gifts. Fundraisers at Emma Willard school have also seen extended families with numerous alumnae pull together to establish a scholarship fund or build a facility in the family's name.
Attaching a name to a gift, however small, is important to schools, which each work hard to counter women's preference for anonymity. "It is very important to show other and younger alumnae examples of philanthropy," says Kathleen O'Conner, director of development at Miss Porter's School. "This is what needs to happen to keep a nonprofit moving."