By Jonathan Oleisky
A $40 million gift to any school will always make news. Most of the time donations of that magnitude are made to small liberal arts colleges and larger universities. When the gift is made to a small girls’ school here in the United States that becomes major news.
Earlier this week, the late Ruth Bedford a 1932 alum of Foxcroft School, a girls’ boarding school in Middleburg, VA made history with the largest known gift to a U.S. girls’ school and the largest gift to any secondary school nationwide this year.
For those of us involved in the independent school community the amount of the gift is staggering. Girls’ schools have always had to work significantly harder to cultivate major gifts and grow their respective endowments. Historically boys’ schools have been far more successful in tapping into alumni networks with deep business connections. Let us hope that this will be the start of a new trend in women’s philanthropy.
According to Foxcroft Head of School, Cathy McGehee, “The majority of Ruth’s gift will be used to sustain, and more than double, the school’s endowment. Ruth’s gift allows us to begin realizing our dreams for the future of Foxcroft.”
Foxcroft officials are calling this a “transformative gift”. McGehee went on to say, “It is a ringing endorsement of girls’ education, and a challenge to other women to support the schools which have helped shape them.”
From an admissions marketing perspective the earned media coverage in the first 24 hours of the announcement of the gift has been impressive. The Washington Post published a detailed story about the gift. Other national media outlets soon picked it up including CBSNews.com, ABCNews.com, FoxNews.com and an additional 65 online media publications reported on the story. The value of the initial media coverage will clearly be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The long tail effect of the additional earned media in the coming weeks and months has the potential to turn the news of the gift into an extraordinary marketing windfall for Foxcroft. Just think of the pages after pages that will self populate each time a prospective student or family does a Google search. The monetary value of that alone will be hard to measure.
You might ask, who was Ruth Bedford? She died this past June 14, just shy of her 100th Birthday. As a Standard Oil heiress Ruth Bedford could have lived a life of luxury in her later years, but she chose community service as her way of making the world a better place.
The Washington Post in an October 28, 2014 story on the gift had a wonderful summary of her life. “In a life that ended at age 99, Ruth T. Bedford served with the Red Cross during the London Blitz, worked on Broadway as a Rodgers and Hammerstein production hand, raced thoroughbreds that won stakes at Saratoga and Belmont, and was a skilled aviatrix who flew a seaplane. But few people who knew Bedford in recent years were aware of her glamorous history. For much of the past half-century, Bedford lived modestly, volunteering at a hospital, driving an Oldsmobile station wagon and wearing jeans to muck out barn stalls.”
As the father of two independent girls’ school students (one an alum and the other a junior), Ruth Bedford’s gift speaks volumes about giving back to one’s community. It is my hope that her legacy will encourage my daughter’s generation to take up that all important challenge that Cathy McGehee speaks of. Every girl’s school in the country stands to benefit from this selfless act of giving. Ruth Bedford’s gift is a wonderful teachable moment and a shining example of how to lead by action.
Jonathan Oleisky is the President of Kalix Communications