A career in school development: A state school perspective

CASE Europe Schools Engagement Award winner 2016 shares experiences from her 20 years in development, and the impact sector recognition has on the work development professionals do

CASE Europe
Nov 18, 2016 · 4 min read

I have my Psychology tutor at Cardiff University to thank for suggesting that I should pursue a career in fundraising and development. Thank you, Dr Robinson. You were right; it is a job like no other! Twenty extraordinary years later, I’m passionate about leadership, driving change and the potential to embed philanthropy in unexpected places — to cultivate, nurture and grow something amazing, however infertile the ground might seem.

When I graduated, I threw myself in at the fundraising deep end, initially working on a £27m capital campaign at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, before joining the NSPCC and helping to deliver their groundbreaking £250m Full Stop Campaign. In 2010, I became Director of Development at The Royal Latin School in Buckingham, a 600 year old outstanding but underfunded UK state school. Here I established the development function and initiated a ten year capital campaign — the 600 Campaign — which generated £6million in the first three years, with a £3m second phase launched in 2016 and a final £5m+ phase launching in 2019.

I know that I am one of the lucky Development Directors. From the day I started the job with a blank piece of paper and an empty database, I have had the full support of the senior leadership team and board of governors. I’ve been given a huge amount of freedom to craft a long term development strategy whilst balancing it with the need to deliver vital and immediate benefits to teaching and learning. That space and permission to innovate — especially in a context of great financial need — is rare, and I continue to value it greatly. It was a bold move on the school’s part, but one which they hopefully feel has paid dividends!

My job brings together all of the things I love; storytelling, realising potential, connecting people — and yes, lots of talking! Having worked in the charitable fundraising sector, it is perhaps no surprise that I believe passionately in the value and impact of voluntary, leadership-led fundraising; to have been able to introduce the concept into a statutory education setting has been fascinating. Uniting senior politicians, entrepreneurs, executives and community members — including students — in a common purpose is a great privilege. I suspect they underestimate how touched the school is by their support, and how much their willingness to volunteer their precious time, grey cells and energy both inspires and drives me personally.

As a state school with no real history of asking or giving, we had a huge amount of work to do to change the institutional culture into one where charity and philanthropy are understood and embraced. We’re well on the way to doing that now, and we are particularly proud of the way that the students themselves play their part so enthusiastically.

As a student body, they have moved from a position of universal cynicism when I first arrived (with laments of “No-one’s ever going to help us, Miss” in the corridors), to believing that absolutely anything is possible if you unite a community and try hard enough. That, as a legacy in itself, is special.

Winning the CASE Europe Schools Engagement Award this year has been amazing. David Hudson, Headteacher at The Royal Latin, knows I firmly believe that my job is to ensure that others are in the spotlight telling their stories, not I! To read the words of those who nominated me, including those of our Lead Patron (The Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons) and those of our outgoing Head Girl, was a lovely gift in itself. To actually win the award was an unexpected pleasure and has given a real boost to the whole school; so thank you CASE Europe, for giving us an opportunity to shine and feel valued. To receive such external validation has certainly helped to raise the profile of development, in the statutory education community and beyond.

Reaching my twentieth year in fundraising has given me a good opportunity to reflect on how much I have learned, and to begin to share that experience with others. I am so grateful to David, and to the Board of Governors and the 600 Campaign Board for allowing me to do exactly that, by encouraging me to launch my own consultancy, The Philanthropy Tree. I sense even more exciting times ahead!

Despite being the school which receives less statutory funding per student than any other in England, I know that the future is bright for The Royal Latin. It is a school rich in heritage, community and endeavour, and bound together by stories about all three. As I said at the conference, it is an honour to serve, and I would love to think that some of our young people might even be inspired to think about a career in fundraising and development themselves. I certainly haven’t regretted taking Dr Robinson’s advice. Not for one single second.

Jo Ballantine is the Director of Development at the Royal Latin School, UK and was recognised for her hard work in engaging the school community and cultivating a culture of philanthropy.

CASE Europe

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