Fletcher Academy revamps fundraising

By Leslie Williams

RALEIGH, N.C. — Anne McKay and Nancy Steinauer are just two people volunteering half-time.

But together, they more than fill the position vacated by the former full-time director of development at Raleigh’s Fletcher Academy, says headmaster Junell Blaylock.

The school opened in 1981 as The Achievement School, an independent day school for students in elementary through high school who have learning disabilities.

Today, enrollment hovers just above 100.

Both McKay and Steinauer have children, now in the 10th and eighth grades respectively, who have attended the school for more than five years.

But Blaylock says the typical student has traditionally spent only three or four years at the Academy before re-entering his or her previous school.

“But that’s changing,” she says.  “I’d like to think it’s because we’re becoming more of a total school.”

She uses the phrase “total school” to refer to an environment where kids feel engaged by extracurricular activities and can find a niche for themselves.

It’s often tough for Fletcher Academy students to talk to friends from mainstream schools who are involved in staple activities like proms and Friday night basketball games, says Blaylock.

Creating those opportunities at Fletcher will take resources, she says, and that’s where McKay and Steinauer come in.

Both women began their involvement with the school through the parent organization Blaylock launched when she joined Fletcher in 2004, and they took on their new fundraising roles after the school’s former development director resigned abruptly in fall 2006.

Until recently, they were unaware that the majority of the school’s operating costs are covered by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, with tuition making a mere dent in the bills.

“The school has just been a saving grace in my whole family’s life,” Steinauer says. “I had no idea there was this huge hole, this huge gap that the A.J. Fletcher Foundation was covering. It was kind of a no-brainer to step in.”

Steinauer and McKay have developed a strategic fundraising plan designed to elevate the school’s visibility in the community and launch a major development campaign.

They aim to raise $700,000 a year over the next several years to create an endowment that can support the school in perpetuity and provide scholarships for needy students.

To implement the plan, McKay and Steinauer will form a parent advisory board to lead the fundraising efforts.

But to convince parents to donate, McKay, Steinauer and Blaylock agree it’s critical to make parents feel more connected to the school.

Because the Academy is only a stepping stone point for many students, Blaylock says, some parents quickly forget the impact the school has had on their children’s lives.

The new strategy also involves raising the school’s visibility and reaching out to the community at large to raise money not only from parents, but from corporations and other interested individuals.

The plan scored an early win in the form of a $50,000 grant from the A.J. Fletcher Foundation to renovate the school’s gym. [The Philanthropy Journal is a publication of the Foundation.]

So far, the school has used the funds to fix a leaky roof and repaint the concrete block walls in the school’s colors, burgundy and white.

And while much remains to be done, progress on the gym, along with last year’s debut of a fully-organized boys’ basketball team, has been a boost.

“It has brought the school community together,” Blaylock says.

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