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Sidwell Friends School’s Mary K. Carrasco is 39th Recipient of Prestigious CASE Award

Mary K. Carrasco, Assistant Head of School for Advancement at Sidwell Friends School in Washington D.C., and Grenzebach Glier and Associates (GG+A) client since 2000, was recently honored with the 2019 Robert Bell Crow Memorial Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). The award, presented at the annual CASE-NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Conference, “recognizes independent school advancement professionals for their distinguished service to the profession, their school, and CASE.” In her remarks, Mary acknowledged and thanked the trustees, Heads of School, volunteers, staff, and consultants who have made her career not only successful but also enjoyable, and she remarked about independent school fundraising, “I really believe that every school can achieve audacious goals.”

I don’t recall the moment I met Mary, but I’ve known her for at least two decades now. Equal parts mentor and colleague, she has always been an inspiration for my own work in the field of independent school development. Her soft-spoken but firm leadership in our industry, belief in the independent school philanthropic proposition, laser focus on moving donors to make their best gifts, and commitment to learning as much as she teaches make her the perfect choice to receive the Crow award. Suffice it to say, Mary is one of my Advancement Heroes. With characteristic humility, Mary agreed to share a few reflections on being honored.

GG+A: Of thousands of independent school advancement professionals, you have been selected to receive this award, Mary. Tell me what it means to you.

MKC: It is an extraordinary honor to be recognized by one’s peers. I think what the Award means to me is that volunteering always returns to the volunteer much more than what is offered in service.

GG+A: What do you see as some of the largest challenges currently faced by the independent school advancement profession?

MKC: We are currently working with three very distinct generations of alumni. Each generation expects very different types of engagement. Our greatest challenge now is to allocate the necessary resources that will provide the best return on investment to each generation.

GG+A: How do you believe our industry will need to adapt to meet these challenges?

MKC: We need to be truly donor-centered, which means asking and listening for how our prospective donors want to engage with their schools. Advancement leadership will need to trust and empower our staff members to bridge our schools into the future. We will also have to evolve 100+ year-old programs such as alumni reunions, alumni class notes, and parent communications.

GG+A: What advice would you give – or do you give – to young people entering a career as independent school advancement professionals?

MKC: Volunteer for your own alma mater and nonprofit organizations. I have learned more from being a volunteer than from any other experience.

GG+A: Looking back on your career in independent schools, what are some of the highlights?

MKC: I love campaigns and the opportunity to support volunteers toward a goal that may seem impossible, so many of my highlights have been achieving key campaign benchmarks. I also remember vividly those moments when a donor has let go of the fear of making their largest gift ever and embraced the joy of creating a truly transformational opportunity. 

GG+A: This award recognizes service not only to our profession and your school, but also to CASE itself. Tell us a little about why you’ve chosen to serve CASE during your career.

MKC:  It has been a special privilege to represent independent schools as a CASE volunteer. Volunteering for CASE has given me the opportunity to create friendships with other professionals who represent national and international organizations, public and private, higher education and independent schools. And just as significant has been the opportunity to learn from the CASE staff, who are experts at volunteer management.

GG+A: How did your own experience as an independent school student influence your pursuit of a career in independent schools?

MKC:  My independent school experience affirmed for me the important value of relationships to learning. The teachers and nuns who affirmed me, encouraged me, and let me know when I could do better were essential to the formation of my sense of self-confidence. I found opportunities to direct plays, be a cheerleader, volunteer at the convent, plan dances, and do a little public speaking. I learned how to work with my peers toward achieving specific goals. Mostly, I learned how to live and work in a community. My work in independent schools has always provided me with a community.  

GG+A: Mary, you’ve served in advancement positions in both higher education and independent schools. What are one or two of the differences, which people may not understand, between those two types of institutions?

MKC: In my experience, donors who primarily support higher education are seeking ways to create new knowledge, and those donors who primarily support independent schools are seeking ways to transform individual lives. We need both.

GG+A: What would you want people to know about Sidwell Friends and the School’s current fundraising aspirations?

MKC: This is an exciting time at Sidwell Friends. Our volunteer leaders recognize the opportunity to transform the business model, so that less reliance is placed on tuition increases. That means creating the best environment for teaching and learning and truly engaging Sidwell Friends alumni and parents as partners in creating this new model. When we are successful, we will have firmly secured the School’s ability to empower students to let their lives speak.

GG+A: Are there any final thoughts you want our readers to know?

MKC: Our work to advance the mission of our schools and universities provides donors with real opportunity to experience joy. Much of our work is to nudge prospective donors toward that joy!

Grenzebach Glier and Associates offers our heartiest congratulations to Mary on the occasion of her receiving the Crow Award.

Before her current role at Sidwell Friends, Mary previously served as Assistant Head of School for External Affairs at Mercersburg Academy (PA), Director of Development at the Maret School (D.C.)., Campaign Director at Aiglon College, the British International School of Switzerland, and Director of Development at The Kingsbury Center & Day School (D.C.). She is an alumna and former trustee of Ursuline Academy (DE).

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About the author

Elizabeth Kolb Farr

Vice President

Elizabeth Kolb Farr, Vice President, serves the firm’s independent school and higher education clients, deploying her nearly two decades of frontline fundraising and staff management experience. She possesses particular expertise in sustaining and accelerating annual giving, instituting and orchestrating high-performance major gifts programs, preparing for and executing capital campaigns, and…