3 min read December 2021 — “I love people, building connections, and helping organizations grow,” Melissa Perkins, vice president for institutional advancement at Gulliver Preparatory School, told Invest: in regards to what drew her to her career. She also defined what a successful Institutional Advancement campaign looks like, the biggest challenge faced in accomplishing her day-to-day, as well as what keeps her motivated.
What drew you to this career?
I love people, building connections, and helping organizations grow. Advancement work allows me to focus on that through storytelling. A school is more than just a name, it’s an experience. The look and feel of that experience fundamentally defines and personifies the school’s brand. The storytelling aspect of brand development work allows me to highlight the difference makers in the community which brings the brand to life.
I believe fiercely in the power of independent school education. The academic opportunities independent schools offer is second to none but it’s the dedication of faculty, staff, and coaches that make the experience magical. I think it’s the flexibility of independent schools that makes this possible. There is a greater opportunity for students to explore and follow their passions and in an independent school, faculty have the latitude to support and encourage that exploration.
Gulliver is a school full of difference makers who shape and change lives daily. For me, it’s an honor to support that work. I want to help build the connections that sustain and inspire that growth and allow for this mission-driven work to continue in perpetuity. Telling those stories is an important aspect of advancing the brand.
How does the Office of Institutional Advancement support the mission, vision and values of Gulliver Prep?
Gulliver’s mission is to create an academic community devoted to educational excellence, with a personal touch, that fulfills each student’s potential. We want to build on our history of innovation and transformation to open the world for our students to learn boldly, act with heart, and lead wisely.
Advancement supports this work through resource generation and messaging. Fundraising is a critical component of the work which provides for current and future needs of students. Fundraising supports the people and programs on an annual basis that make Gulliver an unparalleled experience for every student while at the same time working with donors to develop philanthropic partnerships that support the future vision and needs of the school. From a marketing and communications perspective, we also support the mission, vision, and values by bringing the brand to life. Extraordinary things happen on our campuses every day. We tell those stories, capture photos and videos, and showcase the many ways students grow and achieve at Gulliver.
How would define a successful Institutional Advancement campaign?
Inclusive. The needs of a campaign are defined by the board and leadership but they support the entire community. I often describe fundraising as a team sport. Everyone has a role in making a campaign successful and it is important to bring people together to achieve a common goal in a campaign. Sure, there are natural financial success metrics in a campaign but there is also an opportunity for everyone to participate. Philanthropy translates to the love of mankind and is an expression of goodwill to support others. That spirit of giving takes many forms and they are all important to a successful campaign.
Have you noticed a significant change in philanthropic behaviors in today’s climate?
I think one of the greatest changes, and warranted I will add, is the donor’s desire for demonstrated impact. People are willing to be philanthropically supportive but they want to see where their money is going. At Gulliver Prep, we recognize this need and are thoughtful in the design of our annual giving program. With the support of board leadership, Gulliver is encouraging donors to make a difference in a way that is personal for them and very transparently supports the needs of the school. For example, a gift of $250 provides a lower school student with a Chromebook while a $35,000 underwriter covers the cost of a drama production. Donors are able to identify priorities that align with their specific interests and make a gift that is meaningful to them.
What is the biggest challenge you face in accomplishing your day to day?
I don’t know if it’s a challenge, I like to think of it as an opportunity, but conveying a sense of need. From the outside it might seem like Gulliver doesn’t need philanthropic support, but it does. The school has an ambitious master plan to transform many of the physical campus spaces that will simply only happen with the philanthropic investment of others in our community. We have unparalleled programs which teach unparalleled students. We need unparalleled facilities to give our students and faculty learning environments to enhance their experiences and support their growth.
What keeps you going as an advancement professional?
I take some kernel of inspiration every day from the people I’m fortunate enough to work with. Whether it’s the heart of our Director of Admission who truly gives her all to every single student visiting campus or it’s our Director of Curriculum and Support Services who makes sure every student has a personalized experience; my colleagues are incredible. I’m also inspired by our volunteers; Gulliver has the most extraordinary parent’s association I have ever seen. The organization, leadership, and achievements of this dedicated group of volunteers adds so much to our community. They have boundless energy and passion which motivates me in my work.
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