It’s double “7 Questions” week! Please welcome … Cara Leidy, Manager of Development at Higher Achievement Program, which offers rigorous academic classes for motivated middle schoolers during the “gap hours:” 3:30 to 8:00 PM during the school year and all day in the summer months. (Get this: in 2008, 100% of their graduates advanced to college-prep high schools!) Read on for some great development insight and cools news about Higher Achievement.
1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?
Our most recent event at Higher Achievement was our GoingPlaces! Benefit that raised over $550,000 for our local program. The highlight was watching 5th and 6th grade scholars from Ward 8 perform a step routine on stage at the Warner Theatre — awesome. Afterwards, our scholars were on the dance floor doing the electric slide with local real estate moguls! It was a memorable night.
2. What else are you up to?
We’re working on a really fun way to raise money through a Higher Achievement Triathlon team. We did a pilot last year that raised over $6,000 and brought together staff, mentors, and the families we serve. We had jerseys made for the athletes and a number of folks went camping the night before the race. I love it because it brings together two things I love: Higher Achievement and crazy amounts of exercise!
3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?
My Mom, definitely. I am from a small suburb outside of Philadelphia and my Mom was always volunteering at schools in the city through our church. We would go with her and everyone in the building knew who she was and saw her as a valued resource. I wanted to achieve the same thing in my community some day.
4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?
Terry Axelrod — or as I like to call her “The Axe.” I admire her ability to make development a process with key steps to follow to success. When I began managing our individual donors, I set out to do some research on best practices and techniques. The Benevon Model has penetrated the fundraising world and remains one of the only codified and documented methods for cultivating and stewarding individuals. Although not all the ideas can be translated to every organization, she has done a great job of breaking down what works. Very cool, in my opinion.
5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?
Limited space in college preparatory high schools for qualified students. No matter how well we prepare our scholars, some of them will not get into their top choice high school simply because there is not enough room for every child to get a quality education. It’s truly a tragedy.
6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in your field?
Bring a pen! Someone once told me that you know a good development professional when they take out a pen and scribble something down on a piece of scrap paper or a napkin. You never know where the dollars might come from in your community, so pay attention and write things down that you see and hear (or else you’ll forget by the time you get to the office!). The name of the big construction company building new apartments downtown, the successful entrepreneur featured in the Sunday paper, the bank that has plastered ads all over the Metro — chances are these folks are looking for some more positive press and your organization could be just the cause they’re looking for!
7. What’s next?
Higher Achievement Richmond! We have already hired an Executive Director and plan to open two centers this summer.
EXTRA: If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?
My two sisters and my mom. We don’t get nearly enough time together now that we’re all grown and living in different cities. Given the choice, I’d pick them every time.
Cara– You make some great points. But I wonder what you would suggest to folks who don’t have a whole person dedicated to development. What do you see as the KEY things to do — esp. at this time of year? –Barbara
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Great point, Barbara. If you don’t have a lot of internal capacity around Development, the number one thing to remember is to THANK YOUR DONORS! Especially at this time of year when most people do their giving. The more individualized the thank you, the better. Donors will remember that you took the time to appreciate them, and likely that will inspire another gift.