Terry Snow’s $20 million donation to Canberra Grammar school
is the stuff of legend among fundraisers. The billionaire made the record breaking gift at the tail end of 2019, with much media fanfare surrounding the contribution.
But what lessons can we take from the event? The context is important for gleaning information that may be useful to fundraisers.
Snow is an alumnus of Canberra Grammar and went on to achieve enormous success. The school appears to have tapped into his affinity to secure the gift, ensuring it went directly to supporting pupils at Snow’s alma mater: building a 1400-seat auditorium.
It was important for Canberra Grammar to consider Snow’s own experience: the perception painted of him in the media is of someone who was shy and did not quite fit the usual school mould. By his own admission, Snow was “not overly academic” and was a marathon runner at school.
Canberra Grammar seems to have understood his apparent perception that arts and sports are just as important as quantitative subjects, like maths: his gift funded a new music centre, and he has previously paid to support equestrian sport.
Snow has said: “Music in many ways is the pinnacle of the arts because of the skill, commitment and dedication that’s required to make it. I admire everyone who can play music.”
John McLeod, the co-founder of JBWerePhilanthropic Services, told media: “Donors to primary and secondary education generally have an allegiance to a particular school. They may have a family history there and they usually see a specific need, perhaps related to science, arts or sport.”
Although he was not academic, Snow seemed to profit from being at Canberra Grammar: it served as a platform for him to launch a mega successful career. He made his wealth in property development, facilities, land and infrastructure; he owns Canberra Airport.
“I was a marathon runner at school,” Snow said. "It is true there is no pain without gain. Sometimes you have to hurt more than the other bloke. It was because of hard work, dedication and enthusiasm that I managed to have the modicum of success I have today.”
The school may have sold the donation as enabling others to have the opportunity he had to succeed. Snow told the press: “We’ve all got different ideas about how we’d like Australia to surge ahead.” In his case, he wants to support “the youth of Australia through education”.
Canberra Grammar seemed to understand the billionaire’s interests as well, and tailored the gift towards them, launching a series of education scholarships for indigenous Australians with his donation.
Canberra Grammar would have been well aware that the Snow Foundation, which he chairs, gave $3.5 million to indigenous health, education and social welfare programmes in 2018.
Snow’s gift also highlights the importance of long-term donor management. The $20 million windfall was not his first donation to Canberra Grammar: in 2013 he gave the school $8 million for a center for the New Asian Century, and $250,000 to improve safety in equestrian sport after fatalities earlier that year.
The donations have come at a critical time for Australia’s private schools, whose financial support from government is stagnant despite schools’ increasing costs. They have been hiking fees but there is a limit to what parents will pay.
Canberra Grammar may have explained the donation was a financial necessity.
“This shows the way to other private schools,” Snow told media. “How do you promote growth in private schools? Fees can’t go up much higher and government contributions are not going to go up. So we make a small contribution and we create scholarships for those who can't afford it.”
For fundraisers, the Snow story highlights the importance of tapping into an alumni base and maintaining a long term relationship; doing thorough research into a donor’s experience and interests, and offering to tailor a gift accordingly; making the gift specific to the needs of the school and highlighting the impact it could have on the lives of pupils.
Seb Murray is a freelance writer for ToucanTech and contributor to a range of publications including The Times, The Guardian, The Economist and The Financial Times. Seb covers education, business and tech and has interviewed numerous institutions and donors on the topic of fundraising.
ToucanTech is a community database software for schools and companies to manage their alumni, marketing, development and careers activities.