School of the Arts rebuilds fundraising

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — After two years with no permanent leader and steady staff attrition, the advancement office at the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem has a new chief who is filling empty positions and gearing up to increase private fundraising and diversify the school’s funding base.

The school also has received a $1 million challenge grant from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust in Chapel Hill that will support scholarships by matching gifts from new donors and others who increase their support to the school.

In response to the challenge grant, The Mary Duke Biddle Foundation in Durham already has made a gift of $125,000.

The School of the Arts raises roughly $4 million a year in private contributions, roughly half from corporations and foundations, and half from individuals, says Suzanne Hilser-Wiles, who joined the school as chief advancement officer in August.

Hired a year after John Mauceri began working full-time as the school’s chancellor, Hilser-Wiles arrived in the wake of a two-year period when the school’s advancement office did not have a permanent chief advancement officer.

The advancement office, which includes separate departments for fundraising, alumni relations, and marketing and communications, has funding for 15 positions, but only six are filled, including Hilser-Wiles and two positions she has filled.

Her first priority, she says, is to build the staff.

First, though, she is studying the overall structure of the office and reviewing the responsibilities that existing positions acquired over the years as staff members, many of whom now are gone, acquired additional expertise.

“Their jobs grew as the department grew,” says Hilser-Wiles, who most recently was director of external affairs for CancerCare and also held development jobs at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all in New York City.

“So we need to look at job descriptions,” she says, “and what are the functions we need to be a fully operational system.”

In addition to an office assistant, Hilser-Wiles has hired a grantwriter.

“One of the areas of big untapped potential is our grants program,” she says. “There are a lot of funders who have traditionally funded arts or education that the school hasn’t gone to recently.”

Private support for the school should grow, she says, but developing a fundraising strategy and goals, as well as ways to measure the effectiveness of the fundraising operation, first will require filling vacant positions.

Wilser-Hiles says she hopes to fill all staff positions by the end of 2008.

“It hard to gauge how much we could be raising with the staff because we haven’t been fully staffed in a while,” she says. “I think we have extraordinary untapped potential. I don’t think $4 million is representative of where we should be at all.”

In particular, she says, the school could be raising more money from foundations, corporations and individuals.

The school eventually would like to undertake a comprehensive campaign, she says, but first must develop a strategic plan.
It is likely to undertake a smaller campaign to raise private support to help build a new library for which state lawmakers have appropriated $25 million.

In addition to its annual fundraising, the School of the Arts also seeks planned gifts that are deferred or involve assets other than cash.

Planned gifts typically are made to the North Carolina School of the Arts Foundation, which has an endowment totaling $19 million.

A separate endowment at the school supports faculty through private contributions that the state matches.

The school also receives advice and assistance from a planned-giving officer who works for UNC-Chapel Hill and the general administration of the UNC system, which has been working to provide  fundraising assistance for smaller campuses.

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