New Program Allows Donors to Give to Specific Programs

Have you ever thought about what happens to the money that is donated to Northwood? Does your $100 donation go toward something as simple as buying a new chair for our classrooms, or something to better the school’s future, like renovating Northwood on Main? Or does it go toward the electric bill or for ice rental at the Olympic Center?

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Northwood has recently launched Discover Your Giving Opportunity, a new program which allows donors to choose a specific area to target their giving. For instance, a gift can now be made specifically to Northwood’s Ski Team or to the English Department.

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Director of Advancement Alex Niefer (Photo: Mr. Michael Aldridge).

“The Advancement Office has many face-to-face meetings with alumni and parents,” Alex Niefer, Director of Advancement, told The Mirror. A donor will often ask, ‘What, specifically, does my gift fund?’ This question leads us into a conversation about how a donor can have a direct and enduring impact on the lives of students here at Northwood,” said Niefer, who oversees the school’s fundraising and alumni relations efforts. Gifts from alumni, families, and friends account for a significant part of Northwood’s annual operating costs. “It’s nice to be able to say that 29% of the total Northwood experience is supported through giving,” he added. “When you break it down, this would mean that two out of every seven days are covered by giving,” said Niefer.

Niefer said inviting Northwood donors to direct their giving to the people and programs that they care about most is part of an effort to increase the number of donors who contribute to Northwood and the amount they give. A New York State Association of Independent Schools research project about annual giving among boarding schools in New York state found that the number of donors at other institutions are decreasing across the board. It’s actually a national trend, according to the National Association of Independent Schools.

“The good news [from the NYSAIS study] is that the size of the gifts is increasing because donors know where their funds are going and they can witness the impact that their generosity has on the school. They have the opportunity to get to know the students and the programs that benefit from their gift,” said Niefer.

The Advancement Office wanted to apply this knowledge to Northwood. “Hence we have the Discover Your Giving Opportunity campaign,” said Niefer. “It invites donors to target an area so that they can directly enhance the Northwood experience for students. Donors can find the specific areas they want to give to on the school’s website, but it’s really a growing list,” he added. “If a donor contacts us and says, ‘I’d really love to support program X,’ then we’ll make it work to achieve not only the goals of that donor but also the mission of Northwood School.”

That begs the question, will donations be made to only a few popular programs, leaving many areas unfunded?

Northwood is currently in the early stages of developing this program and having even a single program entirely funded by donations is a long way off, according to Niefer. “When we do get to that position, folks such as myself, Stephanie Colby, Christine Ashe, as frontline fundraisers, will communicate with the donors about where our greatest needs are,” he said. “If you imagine all these areas as buckets, as one bucket starts to fill up, we have the ability to communicate with our donors and tell them, ‘Program X might not be our greatest need right now,” he said. “Our greatest need is program Y.’ Our goal is to guide donors through the process of giving so that they feel their generosity is being utilized to their wishes. We look forward to the day that our buckets start to overflow… but I think we are several years from that happening,” said Niefer.

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