What is the Endowment Wall and Why Should We Care?

Lauren Salzman Wall space is hard to come by at Latin due to the abundance of student artwork, trophy displays and announcements posted on walls throughout the upper school. “Latin doesn’t have very many empty walls,” Ms. Hobbs, Director of Development says. So finding a spot for the Endowment Wall, the new art installation recently unveiled in the pit, proved quite challenging. However, after just weeks of being erected, the wall has brought a new light and meaning to a space that countless students walk through each day and previously did not pay much attention to. But many might ask, just what exactly is an Endowment Fund? Simply put, it’s an investment fund established by a foundation or nonprofit that makes consistent withdrawals from invested capital. The primary purpose of the fund is to ensure the long-term financial health of the non-profit organization and its beneficiaries. The capital in endowment funds is generally utilized for specific needs or to further an organization’s operating process. Only income generated by the capital investments is available to the organization for use in operations. At Latin, over 1500 donors contributed to the school’s endowment fund/campaign, raising more than $50 million over five years to create the beginning of an endowment “that will continue to grow in perpetuity,” according to the fund’s mission statement. Donations varied in size, but 13 people/families each contributed $1 million. Latin remains conscious of not naming the specific amount that families have donated, so while the squares on the Endowment Wall are categorized by donation size, the amount a family or individual needed to donate in order to receive a square of a certain size is not listed. The specific goal of the fund is centered around “providing a more reliable source of income to support the school’s commitment to provide greater financial aid for students and professional development funds for faculty,” explains Ms. Hobbs. Previously, Latin was disproportionately funded and there weren’t enough avenues to pull funds from. For example, the money that students spend on lunch is put back into our the lunch budget and Latin makes a minimal profit from Summer at Latin programs. Instead of relying on increasingly higher tuition and annual giving each year, the endowment now provides a “stable financial foundation for our school’s continuous improvement and success,” according to the Endowment Campaign’s mission. Within the overall fund, there are 54 named funds and the progress of those funds is annually reported back to their namesake by the development office. Parents, alumni, and families have the option to direct these donations and specify what they would like their contributions to go towards. For instance, some contributors have chosen to focus on increasing financial aid in the lower school or on high school project week. Latin signs a “Donor Bill of Right,” explained Ms. Hobbs, which states that Latin is obligated to respect the specifications of donations. The Endowment Fund also has had a significant impact on all of Latin’s students, regardless of whether one’s family contributed. Before the campaign, annual tuition increases were around 7%. Now, they are under 3% along with an increased support for financial aid. Additionally, prior to the campaign, Latin was falling behind in teachers’ salaries for comparable independent schools and now is able to offer a very competitive salary. “At the close of each campaign there is some type of recognition plaque,” explains Ms. Hobbs. However none has sparked such a lively and spirited conversation as the recently installed wall in the pit. Some questions echoing the halls center around whether donors should be publicly recognized at all. When asked about why there is a need for a plaque or symbol of recognition, Ms. Hobbs talks about the importance of “recognizing leadership in giving.” And while 90% of money raised is from the most affluent 10% of families and individuals, leaders are nothing without the people for which they lead and work to improve the lives of. Additionally, this wall is ever changing. Even though the campaign is over, people can still donate, and a donor’s name can be added to the group of leaders and contributors to the Latin endowment. Besides recognition, the Endowment Wall sparks donations. “If someone sees a family and individual they respect on the wall, it encourages them to lend support as well.” Ms. Hobbs remarks that she does “asked every donor to give their permission to include their name in order to ensure that each family felt comfortable with the public recognition.” When asked how he feels about seeing his parents’ names on the wall, Eli Bucksbaum, current senior, says:

I am definitely proud to see that they are recognized, because I know my parents have done a lot of     hard work on behalf of my school. My mom has been very invested in the learning resources program ever since she saw the impact of learning specialists in middle school such as Ms. Donovan. Seeing what a beneficial presence Ms. Donovan was to me and so many other middle school students, my mom decided that she wanted to focus her time and donations toward developing an even better LR program for the high school. My parents found something that not only pertains to me, but kids like me with learning differences and helped to enhance a program that will help not only high schoolers now, but every future high school student that walks the halls of Latin.

On the other hand, some families may not want their names publicly recognized in the building while they still have children enrolled at Latin. That is why all families and individuals represented were offered the option to be noted as “Anonymous.” On a similar note, Latin is currently receiving many donations for the new learning commons to be built next summer. Families are being given the option to change the name that is recognized once their child/children graduates. For instance, there could be an inscription with the student’s grandmother’s name, and then once the student graduates, the inscription could be updated to the last name of the student and/or family.   “There is a fine balance between recognizing leadership and letting it be known that the support of the whole community is needed,” Ms. Hobbs says. And with Latin’s theme of leadership this year, the Endowment Wall can serve as a reminder that one small or large contribution to bettering our school makes you a leader, but also bequeaths Latin’s students and teachers to have opportunities to become leaders themselves. ]]>