How St. Mark’s School developed highly effective engagement strategies to achieve success with their largest campaign ever

Located on 250 acres in the picturesque town of Southborough, Massachusetts and just 25 miles from Boston, St. Mark’s School is a coeducational, college-preparatory school educating students in grades nine through twelve. Founded in 1865, St. Mark’s is one of the nation’s oldest boarding schools. From its earliest days, St. Mark’s has educated and prepared young people for lives of leadership and service. The School challenges its students to develop their individual analytic and creative capabilities by inspiring their curiosity and kindling their passions.

Development Guild began its partnership with St. Mark’s in 2014, when the School engaged us to provide counsel on their upcoming campaign, the largest by far and first in decades. The campaign would encompass the School’s strategic plan, while also re-invigorating and strengthening its major gift program. We partnered with St. Mark’s to identify, prioritize, and act on the most effective engagement strategies, which included new alumni programming, establishing a Heads of School advisory council, and spending more time on the road. The parent program was also a focus of attention. This led to remarkable early success, as the School quickly raised $50M towards their goal of $90M.

This success came just as St. Mark’s was considering whether or not it was prudent to take on the building of a major new residential life facility. This new capital project would transform the campus by moving all boarders onto the main campus, change the way that students lived in community, and sit alongside an academic program that was calling for more collaborative work between students and faculty and day and boarding students. Ultimately the School’s leaders determined that the dorm was critical to its future and that fundraising could likely support the project. The campaign goal raised to $115M.

In February 2021, the campaign crested $100M and is now in the final stretch. Key to the campaign’s continued success is our deep partnership with the Board. Historically, St. Mark’s Board members had been strong donors, but had not been asked much to help with outreach to new prospects to discuss the power and importance of philanthropy. Nor had the Board been deeply accountable for fundraising outcomes or the intersectionality of fundraising, finance, and facilities. Together with the campaign chair, Head of School, and Vice President for Advancement, we designed a new working paradigm which brought together the Board and School leaders of finance, facilities, and the campaign in one meeting to foster collaboration, information-sharing, and decision-making. The result has been a wonderful partnership among these committees, a deep understanding within the Board of how the school works and how one lever impacts another, and boosted support to this exciting place. 

Of course, there has also been the need to help St. Mark’s navigate unforeseen challenges—staffing shifts, the COVID-19 pandemic, and racial reckoning—all the while remaining steadfast in its vision and goals. The School has garnered unprecedented level of support from alumni and international families, and their Annual Fund has tripled, thanks in part to a very active development and campaign committee. Committee member giving has also been a catalyst for a strong major gifts program, and St. Mark’s is well poised to continue to achieve major gift success long beyond the campaign.

St. Mark’s is on track to open their new residential life facility in September of 2022, and to meet their campaign goal with resounding success.

Development Guild has an amazing reputation – and for good reason. Their consultants care deeply about our school, and it comes across in how tailored and thoughtful they are with every aspect of the engagement. The advice they have provided us is highly strategic, and their wealth of fundraising knowledge and experience has been invaluable.

- John Warren, Head of School

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