Public Purpose and Town-Gown Relations | James Wickenden | 5 Min Read

Independent schools along with private colleges and universities are given a 501(c)(3) classification by the Internal Revenue Service. Basically, the designation means that those institutions classified as such do not have to pay taxes. This is a huge benefit that the leadership of some non-profit institutions might consider as justified and feel entitled to special consideration. At the risk of stating the obvious, an attitude of entitlement does little to enhance a relationship with those in the community who are not affiliated with the institution and might become resentful of the 501(c)(3) privilege. Thus, to counter this understandable reaction, the leaders of those non-profit organizations might give serious consideration to the creation of programs or opportunities that would provide benefits to families who live in their communities. The purpose of this article is to identify possible initiatives that might be viewed positively by the leaders of these institutions. 

Because there is so much variety in the communities where non-profit institutions exist, the following list of potential options may not be viable for all independent schools. However, what independent schools should consider is what could be done to demonstrate to the leaders of a community that the school is appreciative of the opportunity to be a part of a given town, suburb, or city. Thus, the following potential list of options is designed to encourage Boards of Trustees and Heads of School to give creative thought to instituting programs or policies to demonstrate their appreciation for being a member of a given community. 

A few potential options for an independent school (particularly those in a non-urban community) are as follows: 

  1. Access to Athletic facilities: Demand for facilities is based on athletic season and daily schedules. Stated another way, there are times during the year and the day when some of the athletic facilities are not being used by those affiliated with your school. If such is the case, one might want to partner with the local public schools and private clubs to provide opportunities for the athletes to have more access to well-maintained facilities. These might include playing fields, field houses, hockey rinks, and pools. For private organizations, the school might consider charging a fee for usage that is, in the eyes of the club officials, outweighed by the availability of facilities.
  2. Invitations: Assuming that all communities have some political structure, it might be wise for the Head of…
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Jim Wickenden

Jim is a Principal at DRG and Founder of Wickenden Associates, an affiliate of DRG. Having been the CEO of one of the premier education executive search firms in the United States, Jim brings unparalleled experience and networks to best serve clients. With over 30 years of experience identifying and guiding Heads of Schools and other senior administrators of schools across the country, Jim approaches each search with flexibility and openness that responds to the individual needs and concerns of schools and their leaders. Before founding Wickenden Associates, Jim served as the Dean of Admissions at Princeton University and Director of Student and Alumni Affairs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A graduate of Tabor Academy and Princeton University, Jim holds a master’s degree in Counselor Education from Rutgers University, a master’s degree in the General Purposes of Education from Harvard University, and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Boston University. As a former member of eight boards of independent schools with a wide range of missions and resource levels, Jim also knows firsthand the responsibilities shouldered by today’s trustees; and knows how to guide boards through tough transition processes and on good governance practices. Jim lives in Princeton, NJ, and when he is not at the office he enjoys reading enlightening books.