Since joining the community three years ago, Natasha and Robert Schooling P ’24, ’27 have provided philanthropic leadership to Sidwell Friends. Supporting the School helps achieve their family’s goals: receiving a top-flight education and fostering ethical leadership. Now a Parent Campaign Committee member, Natasha Schooling has a new perspective on the value of giving back to Sidwell Friends.
HOW DID YOU BECOME A PHILANTHROPIC LEADER AT SIDWELL FRIENDS?
I’m not somebody who typically fundraises, but it came about organically. I was talking with friends on the Parent Campaign Committee, and I was really impressed with everyone. I had been looking to get involved, so I decided to try a new skill set. It was especially great because the Advancement office is so good at training you and preparing you with all the information you need. They’re so positive; they made me feel like I could do it. And it’s fun!
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT FUNDRAISING AND ABOUT THE COMMUNITY?
I’ve loved learning more about how independent schools operate. I feel like I’m supporting the School’s mission through these campaigns, especially in terms of the endowment and Annual Fund, as well as looking toward the future with the new Upper School building and unified campus. I’ve really enjoyed meeting the community, including involved alumni. Some don’t even have kids at the School anymore. That’s been fascinating— meeting the community members up and down the divisions and the alumni. I’ve also learned it’s not hard to ask for money. It’s not so much asking for money, as it’s asking: “What do you want out of the School? What are your goals? How can we meet you there?”
ARE PEOPLE SURPRISED TO FIND OUT THAT TUITION DOESN’T COVER EVERYTHING?
If it covered everything, tuition would be a lot higher! There is a gap between the needs in the operating budget and the actual tuition. Philanthropy is the most effective way of bridging that gap. Sometimes the Quaker environment can be modest, and people may say: “Does the School really need philanthropy? Shouldn’t tuition be enough?” So, there’s an education component, helping people understand that we do rely on philanthropy and they can make a difference.
WHY DO THE DONORS YOU’VE SPOKEN TO DECIDE TO GIVE TO THE SCHOOL?
Some of the most interesting donors are those who won’t personally benefit from the campaign—maybe their kids already graduated and won’t experience the new Upper School. They give because they’re so passionate about their own experience with the School and the impact it had
on their children. Others give because they see the vision of a unified campus. For those donors, there is a sense of “I want my kids to have that new Upper School experience.” There’s also a sense that giving to the Upper School is setting Sidwell Friends up for the future. Sidwell has a unique mission of ethical leadership and academic excellence, and there’s a trickle-down effect. It may not be today, but if we invest in these skills and the new academic chairs we’re endowing, then we’re creating students who will become active ethical leaders as they get older. Preparing the students of today to be leaders of tomorrow will have a huge impact. It’s aspirational, and it resonates with a lot of people.
WHY DO YOU PERSONALLY GIVE?
For all those reasons and what my family has experienced ourselves. When my daughter started 6th grade, she said to us: “I’m not a math person. That’s not my thing.” Then she had a teacher her first year at Sidwell who inspired her to love math—and she’s good at it, which she may never have known if she hadn’t been pushed in such a supportive, loving way by a great teacher. It’s investing in people like that, really investing in faculty and bringing the best into Sidwell, that the campaign will accomplish. From a personal level, from a tangible level—in addition to all the big-picture stuff— that’s what we’ve seen. Another example is my 10th grade son. During lockdown, these kids in high school were just sitting hour after hour in front of a screen. Then the Athletics department put together an outdoor baseball league, recognizing the whole child and helping these kids have an outlet. They went out of their way, above and beyond, and had such a huge impact on these boys and brought joy during a scary and difficult time. Our family’s experience has been so positive, it makes us more altruistic. We want to give back and foster that environment.