Alec Aspinwall: Fundraising at the Frankfurt International School

Alec Aspinwall is Director of Admissions and Advancement at Frankfurt International School, near Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Here Alec talks about his career in educational fundraising, the benefits of finding peers who can understand your situation and the advice he would like to share with those just starting out in educational fundraising.

Besides the economy, what do you think is the most pressing problem facing professionals working in fundraising, especially those in educational fundraising, today?
Stewardship. Due to the high turnover within many international schools and businesses, maintaining the close relationships between donor and institution becomes ever more difficult.

While our highly mobile community brings many benefits, it can be incredibly challenging to have the close ties found in more stable environments such as the USA or UK.

Where do you get your best ideas?
I like chatting with students and parents to understand their perspective on our school experience. I am the administrative liaison to our school’s parent group and have gained their trust to allow them to speak openly about issues that are important to them.

Each year I also organise our school surveys and receive hundreds of pages of feedback from students, faculty and parents on a variety of issues. Often they will share positive ideas from other schools or share their dreams of where our school could be in the future.

“[Our] school’s past continues to influence the present…”

What has been your greatest challenge?
Our school is fortunate to be in a country that has exceptional social welfare benefits. However, this means that many of our families are not accustomed to school philanthropy. Even religious institutions struggle to fundraise in Germany because the government taxes those from different denominations and then passes this tax on to the organisations.

What are your major accomplishments?
Our school recently received an eight-figure gift from the estate of one of our founding families. From the early days of announcing the gift to the recent ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Stroth Center for Learning and Athletics that bears the family name, I have been pleased with the way our department has celebrated this momentous event in our school’s history.

It has been a recognition of how the school’s past continues to influence the present and our admissions office is able to introduce this growing tradition of alumni involvement to new families as they enter the school. Recent alumni events in Seoul, London and New York further this message of a school community with bonds that are not confined by time or place.

“Ultimately, your job is to extend a compelling invitation to join a meaningful effort…”

What advice would you give to new fundraising/alumni relations professionals just starting out?
Focus first on families, not on figures. While achieving your financial targets is obviously important, it will only be accomplished if you have first developed positive relationships with the families who make up your current and alumni communities. Ultimately, your job is to extend a compelling invitation to join a meaningful effort, and that invitation will only be accepted if you are perceived as authentically interested in those on your ‘guest list’.

What makes a good training event for professional development?
Finding events that offer you the opportunity to speak in a small group with colleagues who are facing the same opportunities and challenges.

It can be disheartening to listen to success stories of those who have a huge staff if you are a one-person operation. Finding colleagues who face your same daily challenges can sometimes be like finding those rare long-lost friends who can empathise with your situation.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in schools development?
I would go back to being a counsellor. I entered education to work directly with troubled students and, alas, somehow allowed myself to be drawn into the administration during the past 15 years. I hope before retirement I can return to working with students and parents to help them address and overcome the many challenges that come with being global nomads.

About Alec
Alec Aspinwall is Director of Admissions and Advancement at the Frankfurt International School in Germany.

He was previously the director of admissions and advancement at the Taipei American School and was also the director of the Community Services Center in Taipei.

Alec is a graduate of both Columbia University, New York and the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Master of Social Work and Bachelor of Arts in Business/Managerial Economics from the respective institutions.

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