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December 2022

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Message from the Executive Director

Education Foundations: Leading Community Impact is the theme for our 2023 National Conference.

In 83 days, education foundation leaders will convene at the 2023 NAEF National Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, for three days of deep-dive breakout sessions, meetings with exhibitors, and opportunities to network with education foundation and school district leaders from across the US. We encourage you to attend the conference and develop and enhance your philanthropic, fundraising, leadership, and operational management skills to serve your education community properly.

We are pleased to welcome a conference keynote and pre-con session presenter, Meg George. Meg is the founder and president of boutique consultancy George Philanthropy Group, and is a philanthropy advisor and strategist. She and her team focus on maximizing charitable investments to generate outcomes. Meg implements best practices for high-impact major giving that are meaningful, deliberate, and relationship-centric.

This week, we anticipate confirmation of our second keynote presenter and will send an announcement via email. In addition, the Programs Committee completed the selection of breakout session topics which will include, among others:

  • Marketing Trends for Non-profits
  • How to Attract Next-Gen Donors
  • Building the Bridge from Events to Major Gifts
  • New program ideas including K-8 Career Development
  • How to take programs from pilot to permanent

The Early Bird Registration was extended through December 31, 2022. This means you can save $65 off the Early Bird Registration. Don’t delay, register today!


We appreciate the financial support of our current sponsors and exhibitors. As with any major event, we rely on industry suppliers and partners for their financial support. Please reach out to your specific suppliers and ask them to support your professional industry.

This is a great opportunity to engage with over 225 education foundation leaders from our membership of 645 education foundations of which 81% serve public education systems, support over 180 education foundations that self-identify as an emerging and developing foundation, and collaborate with education foundation leaders, fundraisers, board members, and leaders of education systems.


If you or your foundation wish to support the conference with a donation, our 501(C)3 charitable arm NSFA, National School Foundations Associations, Inc. accepts online donations. Consider making your tax-deductive donation using the link below. Be sure to select “NAEF Conference 2023" as the purpose of the donation.



Peter Constantinou
Executive Director


Join us in Las Vegas!

From Problems to Possibility
By: Gail Rothman

Sometimes you read a book that really shifts the way you see the world.  As the 20th anniversary of Decatur Education Foundation approached last year, I began to think about what the future held. After a dozen years as executive director, I was proud of our community and all that we had accomplished together. I also knew that it didn’t feel authentic to emerge from the pandemic years and return to business as usual after so much disruption. A board member suggested the book The Four Pivots, by Dr. Shawn Ginwright, which discusses some of the fundamental shifts that need to happen to achieve social change. I listened to the author on Bren√© Brown’s podcast and went on to read the book.

Each of the pivots is applicable to DEF and where we find ourselves at this moment, but the one that is most critical is the shift from “problem-fixing” to “possibility-creating.” Dr. Ginwright analyzes how leaders and non-profits get fixated – even addicted to– problems that we are trying to solve, and do not put enough thought into what should be created in their place. 

DEF has been an organization defined by solutions. In fact, our mission is to connect people, resources and ideas to solve the problems facing our kids.  In this moment, however, coming out of the pandemic, we have to acknowledge the significant toll the pandemic has had on our kids and every part of their lives. There are so many problems to solve, it can feel like we are plugging leaks in a dam that was already at the brink of bursting.  The Four Pivots made me realize that in order for DEF to move boldly into the post-pandemic future and deepen our impact, we would need to move away from a focus on problems and toward a focus on possibilities.  

This was the “aha” moment that prompted DEF to commit to a Year of Strategic Inquiry - taking time to shift our mindset to creating possibilities with and for our kids. 

Typically, when faced with big changes or challenges, non-profits engage in strategic planning which includes a needs assessment and an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It felt to me that we needed a different approach, one that met this unique moment we find ourselves in and that acknowledges that there is a lot to be gained from looking at a variety of “expertise”. 

To learn from the lived experience of our youth, we are expanding our partnership with VOX ATL to train local youth facilitators who will design and host sessions with their peers to answer the question: What would help youth in Decatur feel connected, supported, and valued? What would help youth thrive? These questions reframe the traditional problem-focused work and allow youth to envision a future anchored in possibility. We learned from our pilot project with VOX ATL last spring that really listening to youth takes time and a willingness to let go of traditional notions of power and leadership, and we are ready to expand that work.

We will use the extensive academic research to position what we hear from Decatur youth in the broader context of youth experience overall. The Search Institute’s Developmental Assets and the body of research on protective factors will help us understand factors that lead to better outcomes for youth.

The inquiry will also include visiting with and learning from innovators: organizations that center their missions on youth voice and leadership. We are focusing our visits on youth-centered spaces, learner-centered environments, and youth-led advocacy organizations.  The first of these visits took place in October with visits to the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor and the Congress of Communities Youth-Driven Community Center in Detroit.  Several other visits are planned including trips to Denver and Boulder, Seattle and Boise. Great youth-centered work is happening in every part of our country. 

I hope DEF’s year of inquiry inspires other education foundations to go beyond the traditional methods of strategic planning and take time for deep thinking and true possibility-creating.  To meet this unique moment in time requires a new model – one that is built on curiosity, youth engagement, and learning from those who are doing forward-thinking, youth-centered work outside the foundation world. There is so much to be gained from leadership that embraces active learning to help create the future we want to see. I can’t wait to share what we learn!

Check out some of the resources and innovators I plan to learn from HERE.

About the Author

Gail Rothman
Executive Director,
Decatur Education Foundation

Gail Rothman joined the Decatur Education Foundation as its first executive director in 2009, and has led the foundation through a period of significant growth and expansion for more than a decade. She is a champion of educational equity and believes strongly that education foundations have a significant role to play in tackling the tough challenges facing youth, including mental health, racial equity, and food insecurity. Gail has more than 25 years of experience in the non-profit sector including program development, strategic partnerships, and resource development. She loves to coach and support executive directors and non-profit boards who want to grow and expand their impact. In her free time, Gail loves to travel to new places with her high school teacher husband, spend time with their three mostly grown children and commune with the trees.

About the Author

Mark Bergethon
Convergent Nonprofit Solutions

As a founding Principal of Convergent Nonprofit Solutions, Mark is recognized as one of the leading national experts in funding nonprofit organizations and community initiatives through fundraising campaigns. Mark has directed and provided oversight for more than 100 feasibility studies and fundraising campaigns for organizations nationwide, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for a wide variety of nonprofits and economic development organizations. His specialized expertise includes transitioning membership-based organizations into investment-based organizations, forging public/private partnerships, forming and capitalizing new economic development organizations, and establishing regional economic development collaboration. He has also authored two legal reference books, a research paper in an international academic journal, and numerous articles on fundraising and other nonprofit concerns.

Emory University (BS, Political Science) | University of Georgia, School of Law (JD)

3 Ways Educational Foundation Leaders Can Make an Impact in a Recession
By: Mark Bergethon

There are more opportunities for nonprofit leaders to make an impact during an economic downturn, given that more people often need services from nonprofits during these times. This need is likely to increase and be felt across most, if not all, nonprofit sectors. Education is certainly no exception and, in fact, has been making news since the pandemic as the sector overcomes challenges and evolves to meet the growing needs of students today. The question is whether your education foundation is changing with the times and sustainable for the future.  

It is possible to serve your constituents in an even more impactful way during times of economic uncertainty or a recession. I have worked in nonprofit funding through two: the Great Recession and the smaller pandemic recession. During both my teams were able to improve development efforts and successfully complete capital campaigns for our nonprofit clients, helping them to increase their services, stay afloat, complete building/renovation projects, and make an even greater impact on their community. These three tips will help you to do the same.

#1 Solidify Your Messaging
Fundraising competition is always fierce - even more so during times of economic uncertainty. This makes solidifying your messaging critical to fundraising success. Be clear in what makes you different, what you are offering the community, and what you will accomplish. A capital campaign is an excellent opportunity to clarify your message because you must communicate with clarity to inspire confidence among potential investors.

Here are some specific messaging tips:

  • Address the recession upfront and be clear about your plans to sustain operations regardless
  • Solicit investments from donors using a variety of methods including planned giving and endowment opportunities
  • Turn this into an opportunity that’s unique

Here are examples of how we incorporated unique communication opportunities into two capital campaigns. Pellissippi State Community College raised $14,000,000 in their campaign and earmarked a portion of the money for a “Student Opportunity Fund,” helping allay ancillary costs such as books and childcare that may hamper a student’s ability to attend and succeed in school. Roxboro Charter School involved their entire community in their capital campaign by positioning their new gym as a multi-purpose community facility. This broadened base of support led to success in their $1,600,000 campaign.

#2 Stop Asking for Donations
I’m serious. Stop asking for donations. Instead, ask for an investment. Convergent has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for nonprofits by turning donors into investors. Whereas a donor may give once and write a check for a small amount, an investor is looking for results or outcomes to justify ongoing, large-scale giving. An investor cares about what the results of supporting your organization will be on the community or their business. When speaking with investors it’s not enough to share information on the number of people you serve. Instead, you need to demonstrate what the impact or outcome was because of your services. Nonprofit leaders can make an impact during a recession by tying the organization’s activities to investable outcomes.

#3 Just Keep Swimming
It might be that I have a four-year-old daughter at home, but I can’t help thinking of Dory’s famous saying in the movie, Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming!” What’s most important of all, perhaps, is that you continue outreach and development efforts for your nonprofit even in an economic downturn. If you don’t have development expertise on your team, it may be more cost-effective for you to hire a consultant for the short term than spend the time and money on a full-time position. If your team does have the manpower and fundraising skills, make sure they are all focused on the same priorities in development. And finally, be sure to diversify your revenue sources so if any one area takes a turn for the worse (i.e. events during the pandemic), the entire foundation’s sustainability won’t suffer.

Take the Time to Prepare Now
Education foundation leaders can make an impact during a recession by taking steps to prepare today. Remember that money is still out there. According to Giving USA, consumer savings increased during the pandemic to $13 trillion–creating opportunities for nonprofits to continue asking for investment. The key is knowing how to make the ask, diversifying your revenue streams, and building relationships with your major donors (or investors) to achieve success through solid communication.

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Every Foundation Board Is a Fundraising Board
By: Ross Pfannenstiel

“We’re not a fundraising board.” Nearly every education foundation has heard this said, but the reality is: Every board member has a responsibility in the fundraising process. Here are some tips to dispel board member myths and fully realize your board’s potential for fundraising:

Myth 1: “Fundraising is the staff’s job.”
It’s unrealistic to think staff members can uncover better community connections than your board members already have. Ideally, your board members were recruited, in part, for their influence, affluence and expertise. Staff members will have the time and abilities to administrate the process, and they will bring professional insights to the table, but board members will have the natural contacts.

Myth 2: “Asking people for money makes me uncomfortable."
When a solicitation is made, only one person asks for the gift. By the time this takes place, dozens of hours will have gone into preparing for the ask. A board member might be a part of the process by suggesting the prospective donor, reaching out to a prospect or offering a tour of the nonprofit. They might even join in on the solicitation meeting and share a personal story, such as, “I’ve been so moved by what this nonprofit has accomplished, I’ve included it in my estate.” A staff member can ask for the gift, but board members still can have a major impact on your fundraising efforts.

Myth 3: “We’re a ‘working’ board.”
Translated, this usually means: “I’m donating my time. Don’t expect me to give you money, too.” However, many grant-making foundations will specifically ask if there is 100% board participation before considering a gift. The thought is: “If the people closest to the organization aren’t investing, why should we give?” Board contributions don’t need to be huge, but they do need to reflect strong buy-in. When recruiting new board members, make sure this point is understood upfront.

Board members are legally responsible for the nonprofit’s fiscal welfare. Fundraising ensures money is available for the mission, and this should be job number one.

About the Author

Ross Pfannenstiel
Executive Vice President
Hartsook Companies, Inc.

Ross, a member of the Hartsook Leadership Team, has a strong track record of development leadership and nonprofit management. He has worked with a wide range of nonprofit organizations, from youth development, conservation, education, social services and sports organizations to health-based, disaster relief, outdoors and faith-based organizations. Through strategic, research-based counsel and management, Ross provides leadership and confidence in his work with nonprofit organizations.

He holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Administration/Finance and Economics from Rockhurst University where he received the Finucane Service Scholarship for community service, the Ignatian Award for academic achievement and graduated with honors.

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