Joe Womac, the Executive Director of the Specialty Family Foundation, joined the “Catholic School Matters” podcast and offered a peek behind the curtain of how a foundation identifies the schools it wants to support. The founder, for example, used to show up unannounced to schools to gauge the school’s direction for himself. He would ascertain the environment and the leader’s vision for the school.
Schools often wonder, “How can I make my school more appealing to foundations?” or “How can I appeal to foundations?” Womac describes what he is looking for. He’s not looking for schools that are thriving, nor is he looking for schools on the edge of a cliff. Not looking for perfect schools nor perfect leaders, the foundation is seeking schools with purpose, directionality, and vision. “Where do you want to be?” he asked. “What is your vision of where you want to be?” The foundation wants to support and invest in schools where the leadership has a vision.
“When you’ve seen one school, you’ve seen one school” said Womac. He understands that all schools have unique challenges. There’s neither a simple solution nor any one-size-fits-all proposals.
However, the Specialty Family Foundation has developed one strategy that has shown very positive results: building business capacity. They have found that many inner-city schools in their quest to cut all costs have very little business acumen in the building, or marketing professionals, or development/advancement personnel. They seek to support the business operations in order to improve the school. That is one of the “levers” of school improvement, as Womac calls it, and they monitor the improvements to see if it changes the trajectory of the school.
They are teaching people how to fish. But in order to pick up a rod and start casting, you need to know what you’re doing and WHY. Womac challenges all school leaders to define their vision and provide their school directionality for the future.