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Blog > Building a community > Q&A with Cathy Voeks, Director of Development at Norwood School

Q&A with Cathy Voeks, Director of Development at Norwood School

"For us at Norwood, it all comes down to building relationships, getting out into the community and making genuine connections with our families." Cathy Voek on the key goals of school development.

Cathy Voeks
Cathy Voeks
1. So, talk us through what you do at Norwood School

I serve as the Director of Development at Norwood, and together with my team, lead the school’s fundraising and community-building efforts. We are a small yet dedicated and effective force that focuses most of our time on outreach that connects parents, grandparents, past parents, and alumni to the School.

2. What does a typical day look like for you? 

My day usually includes attending meetings – it may be a committee meeting for the Board of Trustees, one in support of our Parents Association, or a one-on-one with parents or colleagues. Currently, I am spending a lot of time reviewing data analytics as it relates to our fundraising progress. The data informs the success of our efforts to date, and also helps us consider shifts in our future strategy. That work always takes more time than at first glance! 

3. What projects are you working on at the moment? 

We’re in the midst of a $15 million comprehensive campaign which aims to increase our endowment by $10 million and build a new lower school building for our youngest learners in Pre-K to 2nd grade. So far, we’ve raised $13.4 million towards that goal. 

4. Could you elaborate more on what endowment means to you at Norwood? 

We think of endowment as our school’s savings account. It allows us to use the interest earned from the corpus to invest in things we believe in, like funding for student financial aid, investment in our facilities or managing our tuition growth. The cost of tuition here in the US is very high and we are committed to maintaining modest tuition increases. Our endowment enables us to do that. The strongest, healthiest institutions tend to be those with strong endowment. Our goal is to reach the point where our endowment is equal to, or greater than, our operating costs. We are on track to reach this impressive milestone at the end of our current campaign. 

5. What are your key goals in your role? 

For us at Norwood, it all comes down to building relationships, getting out into the community and making genuine connections with our families. We always strive to have more one-on-one interactions with our families. One of our mantras is that when you send your child to Norwood, your child will be known. We strive to not only know your child and their needs inside the classroom, but what they’re like outside the classroom too – what are their interests? When do they feel the most confident? Where do they need support? Here in the Development Office, we work to emulate that same mantra – we want to know the adults in our community and demonstrate that they are ‘known’ too. This is not easy work, and we are constantly evaluating and evolving our efforts. 

6. What would be your advice to those that are new to the development sector?

For those that are new to the sector, I’d say it’s important to make time for connecting with families directly and spending time in the community. This might not be quantifiable in the short term, but it pays off in the long term. It’s also vital to listen to your predecessors and learn about the culture and environment in which you work. When you’re new, it’s understandable that you want to make changes in order to make your mark. I would counsel those that are new to not rush to make changes too quickly - but rather honour the history of your school, its culture, and develop a deep understanding of what works and doesn’t in your community. This will ensure that the programs you initiate will resonate and be successful within your unique school environment. 

7. How do you use technology, and how do you think it has shaped your work? 

We use a data management system which allows us to push out our email communications through a single system and then access analytics on those communications. We also have a strong presence on Facebook and Instagram because we know our alumni and families appreciate the instant connection you can achieve by posting updates on social media. At the same time, I think we shouldn’t lose sight of the value of more traditional vehicles like handwritten notes, for instance, which have a more personal touch that can’t be achieved digitally. 

8. What challenges do you see the development sector facing in the years to come? 

I believe the greatest challenge for development, in the US anyway, is the cost of attending an independent school here. Parents are being expected to pay more in tuition fees, meaning we can’t expect them to be able to do the same with philanthropy. I think this will lead to a moderation in levels of giving which will be a reality check for all of us in the sector. Therefore, looking forwards, I think it’s important for us not to have an over-reliance on charitable giving for school operations. 

9. Finally, what’s special about Norwood School?

There’s a positive energy here that you can feel as soon as you step foot on campus. It’s very evident that everyone loves children, and there’s a real sense of camaraderie and a great ethos. I also believe our Head of School is a strong leader with a vision that everyone is excited to follow. Essentially, it’s a great place to be a kid, and a great place to be an adult too. 

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