No Free Kicks this week, as I came across a story that is far more important. A bulwark of Maryland high school sports has passed with the closing of Towson Catholic. The school that produced Olympians and NBA lottery draft picks, Maryland Terps and award winning singers, is closing, citing massive debt. In the process it leaving its remaining students in a lurch, looking for a school after being left behind by a school with strapped finances. But I feel no pity for the administration of Towson Catholic.
As a development professional (a fancy way of saying I raise money for a living), I can say emphatically that this could have been avoided. The most outlying estimate of $650K in debt is something that could have been taken care of. Perhaps not easily, and perhaps it would have taken time, but it is more than doable. Towson Catholic, even to those who have no personal connection to the school, is part of the community. It is the name you read in the Sun where the sports teams are always at the top of the standings and they have maintained a high quality of education for those who don’t go there to play. A year ago, when they surely knew they were in trouble, a campaign should have been launched. At little cost and using alumni records and just a little bit of research time, they could have raised the money they need- they could call it "Save our School" or “Save the Owls." If Monsignor Tinder had thought ahead, he could have taken several easy steps:
1) Bring in an experienced volunteer or hire a Director of Development at a low salary to run a campaign if Monsignor Tinder didn’t want to distract anyone on his staff (technically they already had a Director of Alumni Relations in Carol Short, although she had no background in development). TC’s strong PTA and alumni base could have provided the necessary volunteers for whatever the Director’s plans were.
2) Monsignor Tinder would make personal calls to higher-capacity potential donors or even make visits those living nearby. Students would call other groups of potential donors- I know you hate the calls, but they work if they are done right.
3) The reunion volunteers use their connections to organize class drives in which each previous class tries to raise money as a group for TC.
4) Reel in one donor who is willing to make a huge gift ($10K-$25K) and use them to get the word out in a public way. Others will use that example to spur on their own giving.
It didn’t have to go down this way, giving parents 6 weeks to find a new school before the 86 year old institution is gone for good. I won’t comment on the thrift (or lack thereof) of the Archdiocese in saving enough money in other areas to keep their schools open, but when parents and community members know that a school could be gone completely they tend to forget their complaints for a moment and jump in to save it.
Maybe it wouldn’t have worked. Maybe alums don’t care and don’t want to step in. Even without rich and famous alumni the school could have made up at least the $160,000 tuition shortfall they had accumulated and likely the whole $650,000. But even if it didn’t, even if the school completely failed and had to close anyway, at least then they could have said they tried. I am sure they did things behind closed doors, cutting costs and cutting deals with the bank. But they never reached out to the public, never asked their loyal parents and alumni for help. In my line of work they say that the number one reason people don’t give is because they aren’t asked. Maybe TC doesn’t agree with that adage, but it would have been nice at least to see them try.