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New National Certification Program Aims to Train Local School Foundation Leaders

By Sean Cavanagh

This post first appeared on the Marketplace K-12 blog.

A new program will offer the imprimatur of certification for leaders of local foundations created to help public and private pre-K-12 schools, inviting leaders of those philanthropies to go through training on effective management, networking, and fundraising.

The certification program is being led by the National School Foundation Association, a Naperville, Ill.-based organization that provides training and support for leaders of pre-K-12 foundations.

The training will be based on an online curriculum developed in partnership with National University's Sanford Institute of Philanthropy, based in La Jolla, Calif. The university describes itself as one of the largest private, nonprofit institutes of higher education in the country, and the Sanford Institute says it has a history of offering guidance on fundraising for school districts.

The cost: $2,400 for the full, six-month program, or roughly $400 for each of class that makes up the training.

The certification is not directed at big, grantmaking foundations in education--Gates, Walton, Carnegie, and the like--but rather the myriad small foundations formed at the local level with the goal of helping school systems fundraise, forge ties with the business community, and advocate on the part of local schools, said Bill Hoffman, the chair of the foundation association's board, in an interview Thursday.

The goal of the certification program is to help foundations by giving their leaders access to far-reaching professional development, the NSFA says.

Coursework has been created by National University and the Sanford institute, and it will build upon the foundation association's current curriculum, which focuses on leadership, financial management, and building relationships across school communities.

Hoffman and association Executive Director Nina Menis both said that the fundraising needs of philanthropies associated with school districts have become more urgent in the years since the "Great Recession" chopped away at K-12 budgets, leaving financial holes districts are coping with even today.

"The need in K-12 is strong in terms of building partnerships, which are key to the success of a lot of school districts," Menis explained.

Registration for the certification, called the National Education Foundation Leadership Program, begins this month, and courses will start by this summer.

Those who finish the program will receive a certificate of completion from National University, and the formal certification through the foundation association.

The courses that make up the curriculum focus on areas such as the skills necessary to lead education foundations; building a board of directors; forging ties with members of the community; financial management; legal requirements; and marketing strategies. Fundraising is emphasized throughout the curriculum.

Many local foundations aligned with school districts raise prodigious amounts of money.

As my colleague Michele Molnar reported last year, in the nation's largest 100 school districts, K-12 education foundations spent more than $110 million grants and programs for teachers and students, according to one estimate.

The foundations raised more than $230 million in support of public education, and they had collective assets of $322 million. Many of the biggest foundations, based on revenue and other indicators, were based in Florida, where districts represent entire counties.

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