Indicators of Readiness


lightDefining Middle Income Affordability in Your Community

In order to understand who comprises your middle-income population, and how your school or community has historically supported (or not) this population, do some research. Examine your state or county’s cost-of-living projections to see what a minimum subsistence level is for a family of two working parents and two children. You can then adjust the projections for larger or smaller families depending on your community’s demographics. Be sure to clarify what Jewish costs are essential to your values as a community (see question #1 below) and include these factors as well!

Some questions to consider:

  • What is the cost of living a Jewish life in your community (kosher food, synagogue membership, summer camp, Israel trips, school tuition)? Do you want to consider any or all of these costs in calculating income needs?
  • What are the demographics of your school? What % are receiving tuition assistance?
  • Do you have a “ceiling” or a cut-off income level above which you won’t even consider a family for tuition assistance?
  • Is there a maximum % of tuition that you are willing to provide each family in financial assistance?
  • Is there a maximum tuition assistance line in your budget above which you will not allocate additional assistance?
  • What is your messaging regarding the availability of tuition assistance? Is it an open message or one that deters families from applying for fear of rejection, ridicule or just being uncomfortable asking for help?


Check out how we defined affordability in Los Angeles.


lightAn Understanding of Endowment

Endowment is a long-term process and one that isn’t necessarily intuitive – why raise money whose principle you can’t ever touch and whose interest you don’t begin benefitting from for at least a year? How can you show immediate impact of an endowment gift? The understanding of and belief in endowment, recognizing its importance and the impact it can have on your school’s financial viability are vital components in order to begin changing the culture of giving in your school or community.

Some questions to consider:

  • Does your community have a Federation or Foundation that supports or promotes endowment efforts?
  • Do other non-Jewish private schools in your community have endowments? What is their value?
  • If you had an endowment what would your school do with it? What is your 25-50 year vision?
  • Does any other Jewish school, synagogue or communal organization incorporate endowment or planned giving into their fundraising efforts? Is endowment part of the vernacular in your community – Jewish or non-Jewish?
  • Are there champions of endowment within your institution or community (see below)?
  • Have you identified a trusted investment management vehicle where you can deposit endowment dollars?


lightSchool Professional and Lay Leadership Buy-In

A successful endowment effort is driven by strong leadership. One of the most important readiness indicators is having the buy-in and commitment from the professional leadership (Head of School) and the lay leadership (Board and non-board leaders).

Some questions to consider:

  • Does your Head of School already dedicate time to development?
  • Does your board understand its role in actively supporting the school’s development efforts (with their time and their money)?
  • Is there a culture, among at least some of your Board members, of successful face-to-face solicitations?
  • Does your board have an interest in starting an endowment initiative? And do you have respected and inspiring lay and professionals leaders willing to lead this effort?
  • Do you have champions – either at the school or communal level – who are willing to be spokespeople, financial supporters and workhorses for this effort?


lightProfessional Development Staff & Resources

Any development effort needs a dedicated quarterback to keep things moving forward, to initiate strategy/development plans and to make sure follow-thru occurs to reach the end goal. Without a professional staff member dedicated to coordinating the school’s development efforts it will be incredibly difficult to achieve your goal. In addition, you need to consider your donor base and its capacity to support a sustained major endowment gift effort.

Some questions to consider:

  • Is there a least one dedicated staff person responsible for coordinating development efforts? Do they have time to focus on endowment in addition to annual campaign and capital campaign efforts?
  • Do you have a track record of successful annual campaigns and has the campaign goal grown over time? Does this include a track record of successful face-to-face major gifts solicitations?
  • Does your school have and use a donor tracking system?
  • Is your Board willing to invest time and money in coaching or training your leadership team in the skills needed for endowment development?
  • Have you identified a communal resource with planned giving expertise?


lightSchool Stability

Raising endowment is very challenging if schools are in crisis. Donors do not want to commit long-term investments to schools they do not believe will be in existence beyond a few years, whether due to financial instability, a leadership void, dwindling target population, or poor product quality.

Some questions to consider:

  • Is there any internal strife between your board and professional leadership?
  • Does your Head of School have a contract beyond one-year or will it be renewed?
  • Does your school have balanced annual budgets and manageable debt?
  • Are you able to attract appropriate numbers of new students each year resulting in fairly stable enrollment? Is there a 10% or less attrition rate from year to year?
  • What is your faculty/staff turn-over rate?
  • Do your parent body and alumni value your product? Have you conducted any surveys to ascertain this?
  • Is your school current on payroll and payroll taxes?
  • Do you follow all state, federal and IRS regulations pertaining to schools? Click here for BJE’s Finance and Governance Guidebook.


lightAccess to Expertise for Training and Coaching

Beginning an endowment effort requires specialized training. While you need to develop an expertise in endowment development, you do not need to be an expert in planned giving. However, you do need to have a general understanding of the language and planned giving vehicles so that you can develop an appropriate endowment development plan and have meaningful conversations with donors.

Some questions to consider:

  • Do you have access to local coaches or experts that can support your efforts?
  • Have you worked with coaches before?
  • Is your school or community willing to invest in training the key lay and professional leadership?
  • Do you have access to planned giving professionals?
  • Are there local or national organizations focused on endowment development, which you can join and in which you can actively participate?


lightCommunal Scaffolding

Changing the communal culture to define and recognize the needs of middle-income families, and building endowments to sustain them, requires focused efforts. In every institution, many competing priorities and interests can easily derail efforts. It is much easier to stay focused on the task at hand if you are part of a larger effort that both provides support and requires accountability. In addition, it is easier and cheaper to create a message regarding middle-income needs and the availability of and consideration for tuition assistance to accomplish as a community-wide coordinated effort.

Some questions to consider:

  • Are there enough schools in your community (3-5) “ready” and willing to cooperate in a community-wide effort in order to create an effective cohort? If not, can you join a national cohort?
  • Is there a central agency or Federation that has already established a trusting relationship with schools in the community? Are they willing and able to champion and provide the necessary support and training to assist schools with this effort?


Check out PEJE’s Endowment Readiness Quiz for a quick checklist to see if your school is ready to build an endowment. Stay tuned for a complete Endowment Readiness Assessment (ERA) which is currently in beta-testing!