Nat Follansbee, who oversees development and alumni and parent relations as associate head for external relations at The Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut, recently received the 2018 Robert Bell Crow Memorial Award at the CASE NAIS Conference in Anaheim, CA. The award recognizes advancement professionals for dedication to the profession, their institutions, and CASE. GG+A sat down with Nat to talk about the award and his work to advance independent schools.
Q: How did it feel to win the award? How did you find out, and are people treating you differently now?
A: Brett Chambers, CASE VP for Volunteer Engagement, whom I have known for a long time, called me in October, just before a board meeting. It came as a total surprise. I hadn’t ever thought about winning the award – I was just doing my job.
Then, it turns out that this was quite a process, which my colleague in the office Tim Struthers orchestrated. A number of people wrote on my behalf – including Sheila Culbert, my head of school; David Dini, the headmaster at St. Mark’s School of Texas; Chris Norton, the Chair of the Loomis Chaffee Board; Joel Alvord, the Chair of the Development Committee; and Harvard-Westlake’s Jim Pattison.
People began to congratulate me publicly, and I was somewhat embarrassed by that. So, when Sheila announced it at a faculty meeting, I said that I would accept this award on behalf of thousands of people because I benefit immensely from the work that they do – the teachers who teach our students who, of course, become alumni; the coaches who coach; the staff who keep our campus looking beautiful; the alumni and parent volunteers who support our fundraising endeavors; my colleagues in the Alumni/Development Office; our Board of Trustees; all of these people influence a donor’s inclination to give. This is an award the whole community deserves.
So, I’m adamant that people not treat me differently. Anyway, I don’t need any more recognition.
Q: In all seriousness, tell us about what this award signifies to you.
A: It’s heartwarming, and frankly it brought tears to my eyes. It’s a little like a lifetime achievement award. I’ve been at Loomis Chaffee since 1975 – working in development since 1986 – and a lot has happened. Buildings have been built, the endowment has grown to $213 million; the school’s reputation and visibility have grown significantly, especially now that we have achieved our strategic goal of becoming a boarding school. I’ve been fortunate to be in the middle of all kinds of good things, all moving with a strong upward trajectory.
Q: Looking back on your career, what are some of the high points?
A: For the first eleven years at Loomis Chaffee, I was an English teacher, coached sports, and ran dormitories. Then I became the Director of Development in 1986. That transition directly from being a teaching faculty member wouldn’t happen these days. But John Ratté, the head of school at the time, asked me after searches had not found the appropriate person, and I was eager to do something different, so I said I would try it.
We have grown from a staff of seven or eight people, who raised $2.5 million per year to a staff of 20 people who raised $26.5 million last year. The growth has been fantastic.
Teamwork and longevity are core aspects of my leadership. I have worked with Tim Struthers, Lisa Ross, Seth Beebe, and others for over 20 years. Having these colleagues who are so wonderful and have worked hard together is certainly special.
Q: Any gifts or impact stories that you are particularly proud of?
A: Two gifts – both anonymous – come to mind. In the first, we had worked hard over many visits to talk with two parents who had a complex relationship. So it turned out that one day while I was driving to the grocery store, a call came in on my cellphone. It was from the father, as he and the mother were visiting Loomis Chaffee and taking their daughter to dinner in Hartford. Because he had called on my cell phone, I pulled into the store’s parking lot to be safe. So while he is driving, we are both talking on our cell phones, and he makes a multimillion-dollar commitment – while I am sitting in the grocery store parking lot!
In the second, a very generous donor had made two significant gifts already, and my responsibility was to convince her that she needed to increase her commitment because she was the only one who could help us build a much-needed facility on campus. Early one morning we met in my office, and we had a lengthy, wonderful discussion about family, children, and legacy. In a couple of weeks’ time, she ended up adding to her already significant commitment.
The connecting thread in both stories is warmth. The donors knew I cared about them and their families, as well as the fact that they had the capacity to give. There is always a balance between having a warm and genuine relationship and being able to ask for significant gifts. Such gifts shouldn’t be transactions; they should be much more that.
So, it always comes back to relationships, cultivation, and stewardship.
Q: Looking ahead, what are some of the major trends and themes in independent school advancement that you think we are going to have to grapple with in the coming years?
A: The two largest will be the cost of attendance and the slope of the giving pyramid.
As tuition increases, fewer and fewer families will have the ability to pay. Loomis Chaffee is fortunate to still have two-thirds of our families as full pay families. But as tuition increases, fundraising will become increasingly important and may well become harder.
The giving pyramid’s slope has become steeper, as more money is coming from fewer people. Our Annual Fund is a good example. When we started our capital campaign six years ago, we had no $100K donors, and we could have had seven this year. Today, in our Annual Fund we are seeing 13% of the donors, who give $1,000 or more, contributing about 88% of the dollars raised.
Q: What can we do to address these themes?
A: Three things. First, some people are with you for the long haul, so the challenge is to keep them deeply engaged in the school.
Second, there is the matter of research and discovery: Who are the current parents whom we should know right away, so there is time to cultivate and solicit them before graduation? Who are the parents with multiple children, who will be with us for a long time? We have to work both ends – work with the people whom we know, and find new prospects.
Third, we have to keep traveling, including to international markets. We have traveled to Asia since 1994, and our head of school goes every year. We have donors in South Korea, China and Hong Kong, and Thailand, and we work hard to talk with them and help them understand our strategic plan and where the school is going.
Q: What advice would you give to young people entering the profession?
A: Here is what I said when I taught at the CASE Summer Institute, and it is still true today: Find a school you love and stay there, because I am convinced schools will pay you well if you stay and do a good job. Relationships are the key to fundraising, and longevity is the key to real relationships.
When I look at the Loomis Chaffee board, there are people whom I knew as students, people whom I taught. That is a powerful experience for me and perhaps for them.
Q: What would you like people to know about Loomis Chaffee and the school’s aspirations?
A: When I first arrived in 1975, we were a hybrid school – both day and boarding. Today we are 70% boarding, 30% day. That has helped us immeasurably to raise money. We are a school that has evolved steadily, and today in many respects we are innovative while still being traditional. We have an extremely rigorous curriculum; we have exceptional athletics teams in every season; we have incredible visual and performing arts programs; we believe in community service. And we have unique programs like the Norton Family Center for the Common Good, The Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies, and The Henry R. Kravis ’63 Center for Excellence in Teaching. We even have a thriving agricultural program, in a sense returning to the school’s roots when one track of study was, in fact, agriculture and farming.
We have a good vision for what is to come in terms of independent school education. We think a lot about what it means to educate students for lives of purpose and what is required to deliver an excellent education for the 21st century.
Q: Any last words that you’d like our audience to know?
A: Our partnership with GG+A has been great – from Donna Wiley to Jim McKey and the whole GG+A team. The firm helped bring a focus and sense of urgency to our campaign, and that was an enormous factor in helping us achieve our results.
It is an incredible honor to receive this award. It has been a wonderful experience to be a part of the Loomis Chaffee community and do my part to help it grow and thrive.
Congratulations again, Nat, to you and the Loomis-Chaffee team for this wonderful honor.
(Photo courtesy of Loomis Chaffee)