Building a Community Development Office


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So Now Your School Has a Community Development Director
When a school hires its first Community Development Director the expectations for the job may not be too clear, and the resources to do it with may also be quite limited. The school recognizes the need for someone to help it build bridges to the larger community and into its own growing parent body, but most members of the Board and faculty will have had little experience with development work and difficulty expressing with much precision what the performance expectations are for the job. All too often the feeling is, “I can’t give you a good job description, but I can let you know later if I think you’ve done a good job.” Fortunately the game plan for a new Community Development Director in a young growing school is fairly straightforward and significant progress can be made in fairly short order.

A cynic once observed, “If you ask someone for money, he’ll tell you what he thinks, but if you ask him what he thinks he’ll give you money.” The truth is that people give their gifts to things they are passionate about, and nothing breeds passion like having a personal relationship. In this case the focus of the Community Development Director is about finding ways in which the adults in and around the school community can have a personal, passionate relationship with their Waldorf School.

The Community Development Director is usually charged with three broad areas of responsibility:

  • Publicity and promotion,
  • Friend-raising, and
  • Fundraising.

The first step in building a community development effort is reaching out to parents with expertise, and asking if they would be willing to share their expertise with the school community. Specifically, the Community Development Director is looking to create three volunteer committees, one to focus on each of the three areas listed above, and she must look for individuals within the community with demonstrated expertise in each of these areas.

For example, members of a Marketing and Outreach committee should be individuals with expertise in a variety of fields—print or broadcast journalism, advertising, graphic design, public relations, publishing, and so on. Members of the fundraising committee will have either professional experience in the field or will have had previous experience as a volunteer for successful fundraising events and campaigns. The friend-raising committee members are those who have already demonstrated the ability to reach out to others and invite them into an organization, perhaps having organized community concerts for a church or synagogue, art exhibits for a local college, and so on. The Community Development Director does not have to be an expert in all three of these fields, but it is critical that he or she be highly skilled at building teams of volunteers and finding ways to empower them for action.

The initial responsibilities for each of these committees are fairly simple, and by having three strong groups of experts focused on specific goals progress can be made far more quickly than if the Community Development Director tries to do it alone. The following are the initial goals for each of the committees:

Marketing and Outreach

  1. A review of the school’s printed collateral (most importantly its school brochure) and a redesign of logo, stationary and promotional materials as appropriate. Individuals with professional expertise recognize the need to create an image that truly reflects the school’s philosophy and purpose, so any concerns about inappropriate uses of images that are overly commercial or not in keeping with the spirit of the school are eliminated by recruiting professionals to the committee. They also are experienced at finding creative solutions within a client’s sometimes limited budget, and can help the school produce well designed, well priced materials that portray a consistent and effective message for the school.
  2. Creation of an annual report that highlights the school’s successes in the previous year, looks ahead to the future, and provides a brief financial summary for the year. Again this report need not be elaborate or horribly expensive, but it is a valuable tool that is critical to an effective annual giving campaign and for reaching out to individuals and organizations beyond the parent community.

Friend-Raising

  1. Coordinate two events for the year that have friend-raising as their primary measure of success. Note that friend-raising events can raise money for the school-but the primary criteria by which these events are evaluated is not money. Their purpose is to build connections within and outside the school community. Typically these events will be timed so that one takes place in the fall/winter period and one takes place in the spring. Often times the events are planned so that one activity focuses primarily on friendships within the community and the other focuses on reaching out to the broader community around the school. One example of a friend-raising event that reaches out to the larger community is a spring concert that’s widely publicized in the larger community. These events are often held outside and allow many people who might never otherwise visit the school to stop by, take away material about the school, peek inside a classroom or two, or even attend a small open house if one can be coordinated during the event. Admission can be free or nominal to cover costs—the emphasis here is on offering something to the community and building bridges to the outside world. Examples of friend-raising activities that are more internally focused often relate to the seasonal calendar— a Halloween celebration for the students with classrooms decorated in various fairy tale themes, or a community potluck dinner highlighted by a spiral of lights festival as the winter solstice draws near. Each school will find its own way to reach in and reach out, but focusing on just two events can keep things manageable.

Fundraising

  1. Coordinate an annual giving campaign for the school. This is an essential first step before any other fundraising can occur, especially fundraising that looks to the larger community for participation.
  2. Plan one fundraising event that allows participation by individuals outside of the community. These events can take a variety of forms—golf tournaments and auctions are favorites— but they must be something fun and exciting. The excitement of the event will encourage parents to invite friends to attend, and will allow promotion of the event locally to those who want to associate with the spirit of the event. One school held a fabulous auction and pledged a portion of the proceeds to fund music programs in the neighborhood public school. This approach had the dual advantage of helping to associate the Waldorf School in the public’s mind with a commitment to music and the arts, and encouraged like-minded individuals with no relationship to Waldorf education to participate in the event.

As the school grows and the committees gain expertise, additional subcommittees will often begin forming so that additional work can be taken on. The Fundraising group might add a grants subcommittee. The Friend-Raising committee may form a “welcome wagon” team, help coordinate volunteers for school events, create a parent education committee, or even form a Parent Association if one has not existed previously at the school. The Marketing and Outreach team could create a web site or begin a publicity campaign, working with local media to gain coverage on the school and Waldorf education. There will be no shortage of good ideas, and if the committees are truly allowed to take charge the level of excitement and commitment to the projects and the school will be breathtaking indeed.

Key thoughts to keep in mind as a school begins its development work:

  • Hire a Community Development Director with demonstrated expertise in building and directing teams of volunteers. The volunteers can provide the technical expertise she may lack in one area or another, but the school will never have the large development staff that allows other organizations to do everything “in-house”.
  • Recruit committee members based on their expertise and their track record. There will be plenty of ways for people who are unskilled but passionate about the school to make meaningful contributions (especially once these committees start staffing their events and activities), but membership on these committees should be limited to those who can bring their proven talents to bear on the appointed tasks.
  • Give these committees real authority, not just the responsibility. Once the general outlines of their plans are approved by the Community Development Director and any budgetary or other limitations clarified, turn them loose and let them go. People are just waiting to make a meaningful difference in areas where they have a gift to share, so let them do it.
  • Take advantage of new technology such as conference calling and email to allow busy professionals to participate. Many committees can limit the number of in-person, on-campus meetings to a few at the start and close of a project, and do most of the interim communicating using other means. A busy professional may not be able to participate in weekly meetings on campus, but might be thrilled to participate in regular conference calls from her office.

Lynn Kern
Organizational Consultant &
AWSNA Board of Trustees
June 2004

Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
Effective Practices Research Project
DEV Document DEV 2.1.2


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