Fundraising Learning Series: Q&A with Joe Hailey, Rainier Valley Leadership Academy

Mar 9, 2022 | Fundraising Learning Series

What inspires you to be a part of the charter movement in Washington State?

I was introduced to the sector by a classmate in United Way’s 2012 Project Lead cohort. As I considered an invitation to join a local charter school board, I had the opportunity to tour three charters in the Los Angeles area and to meet several parents, faculty, and students there. I was touched by story after story from parents as they shared how their scholars had struggled in the local district school but had blossomed both academically and emotionally once they transferred to a charter school. I later heard similar testimonials here in Washington and at that point I was hooked.

I believe that district schools can learn from the charter sector’s focus on individual students’ needs and on supplying culturally-appropriate curricula. I’d love to see a best-practices exchange between districts and the charter sector. Such an exchange would signal the elevation of scholar success to its rightful position above less relevant concerns, such as those that tend to dominate education debates and anti-charter legal actions.

The political environment for charters has not been friendly in Washington State. What do you emphasize as you cultivate and invite major donors to give to charter public schools?

The resistance to charters, in most cases, is based on serious misperceptions about the sector. For example, many opponents don’t realize that charters are in fact public schools in every sense and offer a viable alternative for families as they seek to educate their children. Unfortunately, due to political headwinds in Washington, charters receive significantly less state funding while being held to more rigorous standards than non-charters.

This gross inequity is what I emphasize with donor prospects. All charter school families are tax-paying members of the community and as such, their respective schools are fully entitled to equitable public funding.

As a board member, how do you encourage other board members to engage in fundraising and support with major gifts?

The first thing I point out is that when applying for grants, foundations and other funders often ask whether 100% of the board financially supports the school. The board’s level of support speaks loudly of its commitment to the mission. Furthermore, having given personally to the school/sector imparts a level of credibility to the ask when a board member solicits gifts from individuals. I also point out that any amount which represents a personally significant gift is both acceptable and highly appreciated.

Board members can also engage by opening doors to prospective donors that might otherwise be closed through introductions to individuals, groups, and organizations in the member’s network.