At Ravenscroft, a renaissance in philanthropic culture is unfolding — and it’s all thanks to a renewed focus on community engagement.
Over the past two years, the Fund For Ravenscroft, the school’s annual giving fund, has undergone a transformation, led by staff professionals and dedicated volunteers who recognize that philanthropy extends beyond monetary contributions.
“At the most basic level, the Fund For Ravenscroft is an annual giving fund that allows our school community to allocate additional financial resources to help supplement, support and ignite many key initiatives across campus,” Assistant Head of School for Institutional Advancement Ben Rein, who has played a central role in spearheading this cultural shift, explained. “Our goal is to reinvigorate the culture of philanthropy not by asking for money in new ways, but by prioritizing building community and connection within the fund’s team of volunteers and between the fund and the wider parent population.”
At left: Middle School teacher Karen Ojeda-Watkins sews blankets with students including Lukas Delphin ’28, at front, and Christopher Wilson ’30 during the division-wide Day of Service in October. At right: Third-grade teacher Emily Lugo wows her students with a science experiment using a jack-o’-lantern.
“A chance to start from scratch”
According to Assistant Director of Enrollment Management Sean Kelly, who as Donor Engagement Officer last year worked with Rein on the Fund For Ravenscroft, it was the pandemic that served as a catalyst for this shift in mindset.
“It wasn’t a strategy shift, but rather a response to COVID-19,” Kelly said. “There was an appropriate lack of connection among our parent body after the pandemic — everyone was coming back to campus weary and not really knowing their school neighbor. So, this was a chance to start from scratch with how we ran the fund.”
A key element of the transformation was an emphasis on community engagement. Megan Baldwin and Chantelle Fofaria, parent co-chairs of the Fund For Ravenscroft — or FFR, as staff and volunteers often call it — played pivotal roles in this process.
“In a nutshell, we wanted to rebrand the Fund For Ravenscroft,” Fofaria said. “It’s the core of who we are, and it helps us be who we are. Likewise, community is the center of all we do, and that should be reflected in the FFR. You can’t have one without the other. Let’s reimagine a fund that brings the community to the forefront.”
“Let’s challenge the idea that fundraising is a dirty word. You aren’t giving money; you are contributing to the future of education,” Baldwin added.
PreKindergarten and Kindergarten students and their families enjoy snacks and fun on Izzy’s Playground during the FFR’s October 2023 Little Ravens at Play event as well as some face time with mascot Edgar the Raven.
To kick off the transformation, Fund For Ravenscroft volunteers and staff started by making personal connections and being present in the community. As Baldwin explained, “We didn’t start by making an ask. We started with a conversation — one parent at a time.”
“We did not want the FFR to be a third party, come from nowhere, ask for money and then go away,” Kelly added. “We wanted our presence to be felt on campus, so you knew who we were long before the [campaign] launched each year and that you’d hear from us after. Thank-yous became the center focus. It sounds so simple: just do what we promised we were going to do. So, we promised community first, and we did that.”
Sean Kelly, at left, and Ben Rein, at right, work with Fund For Ravenscroft volunteers during the December 2022 Candy Cane Lane carpool event, in which they opened car doors for students and handed out candy canes asking families to support the fund.
“Measuring success in broader terms”
From engaging the school community at events like the annual Fall Community Event and hosting PreK and Kindergarten families for a Little Ravens at Play event on Izzy’s Playground to passing out candy canes in the carpool line, the Fund For Ravenscroft and its purpose took center stage. “We wanted to be very transparent about who we are, what we are doing and, most importantly, where this money is going,” Baldwin said.
Fund volunteers didn’t stop there. They wanted to show the community that they are leaders beyond campus as well.
“We partnered with a local coffee shop to participate in a 5K for ALS. It spoke volumes that we care not just about our little community but about the greater good of everyone,” Fofaria said. “When something is more community-centered, it really gets other people more passionate about it and makes you more approachable. It really opened the lines of communication for our volunteers.”
At left: FFR volunteer Kim Roth explains to second-graders Lydia Minsley and Ellis El Mann — visiting the raffle table during the 2023 Fall Community Event — that they can win a $25 Amazon gift card if they guess how many gumballs are in the container. At right: Second-grader Amelia Sheriff (at right), attending the 2023 Fall Community Event with her family, writes what she loves about Ravenscroft on a new FFR poster.
Rein said that approach seemed to have connected with the school community.
“Last year was a record-breaking year for the fund, and while traditional metrics, such as the amount of money raised and participation numbers, are important, the FFR team is now measuring success in broader terms,” he said. “For us, success means creating awareness of the fund’s mission and activities within the community and reestablishing a volunteer team committed to the cause. It means making a meaningful impact on campus through community events and activities that engage parents, faculty and students alike.”
“One of our biggest successes within the group is when a volunteer who is new, and hasn’t wanted to [ask families for contributions] that much, begins to engage,” Kelly added. “Not everyone wants to be the person who reaches out to ask for money, but our volunteers do more than that. There are other ways you can work with us as a volunteer that include writing thank-you notes, helping at events and so forth — that was a key message we wanted to deliver last year.”
“Giving back is a way to make us all stronger”
Another of the fund’s key successes last year was its approach to volunteer engagement. Recognizing that the best way to engage the school population is through other parents, the team focused on growing the volunteer team and offering various ways to participate beyond asking for donations. Participation is aligned with each volunteer’s interests and strengths.
“We really want our volunteers to step away from the standard asks and get out in the community to share their own experiences about how Ravenscroft has helped our children, our families and our teachers,” Baldwin said. “I could get on board with this mission so easily. This is a valuable volunteer opportunity that really helps our children at the most basic level, which is supporting our teachers and what all they can do for our children in the classroom.”
As the Fund For Ravenscroft continues to evolve, its leaders have a clear vision for its future. They hope to build a culture of philanthropy that extends beyond annual giving, where every member of the Ravenscroft community understands that their contribution, regardless of its size, can make a significant difference.
At left: During a presentation about the FFR during the April 2023 Little Ravens at Play event, Baldwin shows attendees a poster with comments written by students about why they love Ravenscroft. “Unsurprisingly,” Baldwin said of the poster, “their love for teachers is mentioned repeatedly.” At right: Kelly and Fofaria put in time during the Spring 2023 phone-a-thon, encouraging Ravenscroft families to support their fundraising efforts during Teacher Appreciation Week in May.
“In five years, we want to have created a culture of philanthropy at Ravenscroft where, regardless of what amount you give, it’s just something that you do, and you do it because giving back to the community is a way to make us all stronger as a whole,” Baldwin said. “Philanthropy should be a pillar of our school community,” Fofaria added.
With the July addition of Director of Annual Giving Kayla Thomas and Alumni Engagement Officer Emma Dement ’16, Rein’s team continues to build on the successes of last year’s approach. Along with Baldwin, Fofaria and other FFR volunteers, Thomas hosted the Little Ravens at Play event on Oct. 7, engaging with many new Ravenscroft parents and helping to build greater understanding of the critical role the fund plays in supporting the school they and their families love.
“The story of the Fund For Ravenscroft is evidence of the transformative power of community engagement in philanthropy. It’s not just about asking for financial contributions; it’s about building connections, fostering a sense of belonging and ultimately strengthening the entire school community,” Rein concluded. “I think five to 10 years from now, when the Fund For Ravenscroft is humming along and providing the type of annual support a community like Ravenscroft is capable of producing, we will all look back at last year with pride as the days when the renaissance in philanthropic culture began.”
As this infographic shows, the Fund For Ravenscroft team raised the bar across a number of important metrics in 2022-23.
Meet the New Members of the Advancement Team
Director of Annual Giving Kayla Thomas
What are your primary responsibilities in your new role, and how do they contribute to the school’s mission and goals?
In my role as the Director of Annual Giving, I manage annual giving efforts with a particular focus on the Fund For Ravenscroft. This work encompasses email and mail outreach, volunteer recruitment, donor engagement and stewardship efforts.
Our office mantra is “Tuition funds mission, philanthropy fuels vision.” The work that I do, and that our team does, ensures that the education provided at Ravenscroft is truly transformative. The Fund For Ravenscroft supports every aspect of the school, from faculty and staff professional development to tuition assistance.
A key component of the Ravenscroft mission is the inclusion of the word “community” rather than “school.” By engaging with the population of our Ravenscroft family that isn’t on campus every day and providing them with pathways to support the school’s vision, we are carrying out an integral part of the mission.
In your opinion, what role does philanthropy and donor support play in advancing Ravenscroft’s mission and enhancing the educational experience for students?
The Lead From Here framework is essential to Ravenscroft’s identity, and the practice of philanthropy fulfills each key component of the framework — leading with self, leading with others and changing your world. Philanthropy models leading with self because the act of making a gift shows motivation: you are motivated to support a mission you believe in. Philanthropy models leading with others because it is one of the greatest acts of empathy: in order to ensure a better education for not just your own children, but many, you make a gift in support of a larger vision for Ravenscroft. And as a philanthropic supporter you are participating in changing the world through strategic and reflective giving, you have made an active choice about the impact you want to make on an institution that you care deeply about.
Every gift promises more opportunity for our faculty, for our student programs, for our staff and, of course, for our students.
Alumni Engagement Officer Emma Dement ’16
How do you plan to connect with and engage fellow alumni in meaningful ways to strengthen their ties to the school?
I recognize that I am one person and therefore do not represent all alumni. We have alumni spanning generations and over 150 years of rich Ravenscroft history. I want to reach alumni where they are in each age and stage of their lives, which may look different from generation to generation. In my first year I will observe what is already in place and work to enhance and revitalize these programs as I gain more experience.
In your opinion, why is fostering a strong alumni community important for the school's continued growth and success?
First and foremost, it benefits our alumni community if they remain connected. Our alumni knew each other during some of their most formative years, and the class size made it such that you knew everyone in your grade and could cross multiple groups of friends. When those relationships and connections stick around into adulthood, it’s a special thing that not everyone has. This benefits the school long-term because if there is a strong alumni bond, the school remains connected to its legacy on a very personal level.
Director of Annual Giving Kayla Thomas
Alumni Engagement Officer Emma Dement ’16