Talk Story with Jim Scott
President of Punahou School
Q:How has the process of fundraising changed in your time at Punahou?
A: When I first got hired, Punahou was leaning on its traditional donors, the kamaaina families that had sent their kids here for generations. But, as we expanded our fundraising – for the science building, the Case Middle School and, most recently, the K-1 Omidyar Building – the trustees said, “You need to branch out beyond Hawaii and the same old families.” Part of that has been branching out demographically and generationally. You hear a lot about the differences between the younger generation of philanthropists and their elders.
Q: How have donors changed?
A: Well, the younger generation is much more hands-on. I think somebody termed it “venture philanthropy.” So, some of the dot-com people who made their money early in their lives are used to investing in us much like they might invest in a business or a startup. … We’ve had to become, as an institution, much more responsive and anticipatory.
Q: What are these “venture philanthropists” looking for in terms of a return on investment?
A: Lots of times, they want to see to what extent we’ve taken an idea and run with it. So, their time horizons are shorter, because they’re used to quicker turnarounds. That’s how their world is. … Not only do they expect to be more hands-on and for us to be more responsive, but we’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, that they make that type of gift as a couple, or sometimes as a family. So, we don’t assume that the man is making all the decisions. In fact, oftentimes, they’ll do it as a partnership. So, we’ll invite both spouses to a fundraising call or a presentation.
Q: What does “hands-on” mean? Do they want more reports, more site visits, more walk-arounds?
A: I think they’re less interested in reports. Foundations and corporations, because of the law or their own by-laws, tend to require that type of accountability; but these donors are more like investors. Often they’ll want verbal reports. Sometimes they’ll like walk-arounds. But sometimes what they want to know is to what extent their investment has attracted other people to invest. … Often, their gift has been issued through a challenge. They’re hoping, actually, to build capacity, or accelerate, or to be a catalyst for more giving. So, sometimes, the check-up isn’t how you’re spending it – they assume we’re going to do what we say we’re going to do – but I think they want to know how their initial gift has helped you raise more money and increased your capacity for raising funds in the future.
Q: Are there misconceptions about fundraising for a school like Punahou?
A: For parents, I think there’s a tendency to think, “I just paid a hefty tuition; I’ve got a monthly payment plan or I borrowed the money.” So there’s a tendency to think, “We’ve done our thing for Punahou.” But we’re trying to get the parent participation up with the case that not all their child’s education is paid by tuition, that there are other sources of income, like endowment and fundraising. A little over 80 percent is paid by tuition, and the balance is revenue from the endowment and from fundraising.
Q: What’s the most satisfying part of the job to you?
A: I think anytime you work in a school, if you’re child-centered, if the students are really the focus of your work, that’s joyful. So, when the adults get me down, I go out and hang out with the kids. That’s why, whenever I’m asked to go talk to a class, or assemblies, or chapel, that’s easy. I always prepare myself, but there’s a responsiveness and joy there.
Q: What’s the most challenging?
A: Probably, in a school this large and this complex, getting people to see the whole picture is the most challenging part. Quite understandably, people see their part of it very well, very clearly. So, a lot of my job is getting people to see the interdependence of the parts, to see the impact of their behavior on the people around them. Punahou is a K-12 school, where a lot of the kids go on to the next grade, and the sequential nature of the child’s experience really necessitates adults talking about the experience as a whole. Otherwise, the child is no longer at the center.
Q: Besides Punahou, are there other issues in the community that are important to you?
A: Well, Hawaii has a number of independent schools. There are a few, like ourselves, that are large and old, so they tend to be the most visible and have the most resources. But I would love to see this community continue to financially support the diverse missions of all Hawaii’s independent schools. Punahou’s fortunate to have the fundraising base to do well; I would want that for other independent schools as well. So, speaking from the nonprofit side, that would be an advocacy for the financial support of all independent schools, because they represent a lot of diversity of mission. They do a good job.