“So what do you teach?”
“I get to teach philanthropy!”
And then we’re off and running in all sorts of interesting conversational directions.
This is how it goes when I’m introduced as a new faculty member or I tell someone I work at a school. The appropriate and obvious assumption is that, of course, I’m a teacher. Having spent most of my career, in the world of higher education, surrounded by Ph.D.s and experts in their fields, I came to revere and appreciate teachers as the heart of an academic institution. I grew to understand that everyone who isn’t a classroom teacher is, in one way or another, in service to those who are.
Soon after making the transition from working at a college to an independent school, one of my new colleagues overheard someone ask me what I teach and my then, rather pedantic, answer. This wonderful science teacher, who had inspired generations of students and was adored by alumni, tugged at my elbow and asked, “Meredith, what do you teach?” Naively, assuming he hadn’t heard the conversation, I launched into my oh so fascinating administrative title and provided an overview of my short-term goals, to which he grinned and challenged me: “No, Meredith. Everyone at an independent school is a teacher. Every custodian, every coach, every bus driver, every counselor, everyone. So what do you teach?” Now late for a meeting, I rushed off with his voice booming down the science hallway, “get back to me with your answer soon!”
It would have been easy to brush off that conversation, and I almost did. But, you know when you have the feeling that you just know you should pay attention, that you’d be missing something significant if you ignored it? — all of those alarm bells were going off. So I took his question to heart. And as reflection often does, it gave a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the essential question.
I teach philanthropy. What does that really mean, and why am I as passionate about that as our teachers are about their classrooms? I’ll be among the first to admit that at times fundraising can feel like a chore, a guilt trip, something to just be done with. But not if we’re doing it right.
There are two considerations from my perspective. First, as I meaningfully considered the privilege of partnering with families, I better understood that we’re really on a journey together. Philanthropy done right is a lot of fun. I get to spend time on what really matters to you — your hopes and dreams for your children, your values, your desire to use your time and money to solve issues and seize opportunities that matter to you.
Second, philanthropy and education are the two forces that are simultaneously transformative for an individual and society — that’s where my passion comes from. Every person is transformed by education, and an educated citizenry is ultimately what transforms a society. Philanthropy is the same. Our American history of philanthropy has shown the impact donors have on all corners of our culture. Through their work, they were changed too.
It’s mildly amusing when someone conspiratorially whispers, “oh, I could never ask for money; I don’t know how you do it.” It’s simple. I don’t ask for money. I seek to understand a family’s passions and interests and where there is alignment between those and the vision of the school; that’s where the magic, and the joy, of philanthropy happen.
As this month of Thanksgiving and #GivingTuesday wind down, thank you for the many ways you support Flint Hill. I invite you to consider the joy and fun of philanthropy and welcome a conversation with you.
About Meredith Cook VanDuyne
Meredith Cook VanDuyne’s official title at Flint Hill is Director of Institutional Advancement. She joined the School in July, moving from Minneapolis, where she led Breck School’s campaign and worked with trustees and volunteers to raise over $45,000,000. Originally from the Hudson Valley in New York State, she spent over 20 years serving her alma mater, Wells College, in a number of capacities in admissions, development and institutional management as assistant to the president. She’s also worked for the nationally-recognized fundraising consulting firm, Marts & Lundy. Meredith, Mark and their daughter, Eleanor, who is a new Fifth Grade Husky, reside in Fairfax.