Fundraising's New Wave
Supporters try to rescue schools
Alarmed by the school district's deepening financial hole, the twenty-two-year-old Ann Arbor Public Schools Foundation recently hired its first full-time director, Mary Cooperwasser. "It is time for all of us to really step up and start supporting a new wave" of fundraising, says the foundation's chair, Omari Rush. "There's such great needs for the schools."
Started in 1991 by developer Bill Martin and others, the foundation was for years run by volunteers, who organized fundraising events like an annual golf outing. It built a small endowment while making small grants to support enrichment programs in the schools: the "Knowledge Masters Open" competition, field trips, and special projects.
Faced with increasingly draconian cuts in state funding, the foundation has been getting more professional. Six years ago, it hired a part-time director, Wendy Correll, who left in September. When voters rejected a countywide "enhancement" millage in 2009, it tried to make up the loss by raising $1 million in just four months--a goal that proved far too ambitious. Though the "One Million Reasons" campaign was extended to two years, it brought in less than $800,000.
Rush notes that Cooperwasser, who comes from EMU's development office, was hired in part for her experience with "major giving." But Cooperwasser will be competing with other nonprofit leaders in pursuit of those elusive big donors. Unknown is whether the schools' latest bad news--for the first time, the district may have to lay off teachers this year--will stimulate gift-giving.
[Originally published in June, 2013.]