Aspen Education Foundation hires new director
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Despite changes at the 17-year-old nonprofit, the Aspen Education Foundation isn’t shifting its mission. It just wants to redouble efforts.
Last week, the fundraising arm of the Aspen School District announced it had bumped up its executive director position from part-time to full-time and hired Cindy Kahn, formerly director of development for the nonprofit Jazz Aspen Snowmass. The increase raises the nonprofit’s staff count to two full-time equivalents.
Kahn, who has an 8-year-old enrolled in the district, just spent three years working for Jazz Aspen Snowmass. The music nonprofit generated more than $6.5 million last year ” more than twice what the foundation has raised in its entire 17-year history. Kahn also spent 12 years as the major gifts office at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Foundation.
Saying that her predecessor, Lisa Childs, had brought the organization “to a whole new level,” Kahn said she wants to see it continue to grow. One of her chief goals is, within the next three years, to begin raising $1 million annually.
“I think it’s doable,” she said. “It’s aggressive, but given the support and philanthropic nature of this community, I don’t think it’s impossible.”
By contrast, last year, the organization raised approximately $400,000 for the school district.
Kahn hopes to increase fundraising, in part, by raising parent participation. Right now, only 10 percent of parents in the Aspen School District contribute to the foundation, she said.
“We do have tremendous support from the community, but we need more,” said Kahn, explaining that she’s aiming for 100 percent participation. To get there, she wants to first clear up the misperception that the education foundation is looking only for large donations.
“We just want to make everyone engaged,” she said, explaining that the organization will gladly take $5, $10 and $20 donations. She argued that small donations add up to amounts that make a difference in the schools.
“Four-hundred dollars a classroom can make an incalculable difference,” she said.
Nationwide, fundraising foundations have become an increasingly popular option for perpetually-underfunded public school districts. In 2001, nearly one-third of public school districts had a nonprofit fundraising arm, according to Creating Foundations for American Schools.
But in Colorado, said Kahn, foundations have become particularly important. The state is 47th when it comes to per-pupil spending relative to wealth, and 42nd in the nation in straight per-pupil funding.
“We’re not raising money for the extras, we’re raising money for the basics,” she noted. Last year, in addition to other programs, the foundation funded seven teaching positions that would have otherwise gone unfunded.
Kahn also is determined to clear up another misperception about the foundation. Citing a study commissioned last year, Kahn said the community reportedly does not view the nonprofit as strongly aligned with the district or the teachers.
So she’s also working on communicating the organization’s true mission ” to raise funds for teacher-identified needs ” more clearly. Jokingly repeating “I don’t decide where it goes” a dozen time in the course of her interview, she emphasized that money raised by the organization goes toward projects identified by teachers,
verified by principals and endorsed by the district. It’s a message she plans to keep repeating in the coming years.
“We’re really, really working on moving beyond that [perception that we fund projects we like], she said.
And based on her years of experience, Kahn thinks if she can get the organization’s messages out, she’ll have no problem bringing the money in.
“It’s really, to me, that simple,” she said. “If you educate people about what you’re doing, you’re going to find support.”
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