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Hal Hannaford, headmaster of Selwyn House boys’ school in Montreal, gets dunked while fundraising.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Hal Hannaford will fast-talk your ear off if it means feeding the funding coffers of Selwyn House School in Montreal, and advancing the causes of the independent school system.

Mr. Hannaford has been front and centre at fundraisers, notably as an auctioneer, for 25 years, all spent as headmaster of various private schools, including 106-year-old Selwyn House. His gavel-pounding ways have helped to raise $30-million during that time – among the ambitious and novel fundraising efforts characterizing today's Canadian private schools.

More than ever, fundraising "is an important strategic necessity to ensure long-term success and viability of an independent school, and there's a really social purpose to it," says Mr. Hannaford, who's in his sixth year at Selwyn House, a boys' school with about 540 students from kindergarten to Grade 11.

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Tuition, which ranges from about $6,000 to nearly $40,000 annually for a day school, and up to about $60,000 for boarding schools with the 90-member Canadian Association of Independent Schools (CAIS), for instance, accounts for the lion's share of a school's revenues to cover expenses. But tuition typically covers only about 80 per cent of costs to provide an education, according to school officials.

While private schools do receive varying amounts of government financial support, depending on the province, it's a fraction of what public schools get – and government money also tends to come with restrictions on how it can be used (typically, it must be for educating students and not for capital projects).

Private school "advancement" offices or departments oversee fundraising for registered charitable purposes – for both immediate and long-term projects such as renovating and creating facilities and buildings, and to build endowment funds that help to pay for staff professional development and student financial assistance.

Boosting student bursaries, scholarships and other financial aid for lower-income families is fast becoming a priority in Canadian private schools, Mr. Hannaford says, adding that 30 per cent of Selwyn House's students receive a total of $500,000 in aid annually with goals to eventually increase that to $1.5-million to $2-million a year.

"Many independent schools in the U.S. felt that they may not be sustainable. The thinking was, 'Who can afford $20,000 a year for tuition?' " Mr. Hannaford says. "The theory now is to get the really wealthy to contribute and create a fund and open it to the middle class. And guess what? They're finding middle-class kids are really good and making schools better. And many [graduates] are incredibly grateful and give back. … Now we have sociological diversity that is growing, and Canadian schools have recognized its importance."

James McMillan, Selwyn House's head of advancement who will chair the 2015 conference of CAIS advancement professionals from Jan. 29 through 31 in Montreal, stresses that private school fundraising is "a relationship-building business" that requires him to participate in dozens of reunions and annual old-boy events, as graduates of boys' only schools often refer to them.

"None of these events are [directly] about fundraising, but all of them are about friend-raising, and that's a huge component," Mr. McMillan says. "It's all about keeping them and others up to date on what's going on at the school, so when we do contact them for help, they're ready."

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Students and families are informed from the start that fundraising – for the school and for outside charities – is a vital part of a private school's culture. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) based in Washington, the average North American parent with a child in a private school donates about $1,000 annually.

The reasons for fundraising vary, based on a school's vision (what it believes in), mission (its goals) and needs. Commonly, schools have online donor pages that outline various ways to give, including by filling out pledge forms asking how often they want to donate and what fund or cause they want to support. Receipts are issued to donors (who give everything from money to gifts such as residual interest in real estate given to investors in mortgages, trusts and life insurance products) for tax benefit purposes.

For instance, while Selwyn House is among schools beefing up their endowment funds to support student financial aid and staff professional development, Crofton House School, a Vancouver girls' school, is emphasizing continuing its campus rebuilding efforts that began in 2004. Crofton House has already replaced the school for senior students (with a wall showing the names of 700 donors) and has built an early childhood education centre, and now aims to build a new senior school athletics centre.

"Every new family is approached as part of our new parents' campaign; every new parent is asked to give at a level that is meaningful to them," says Pat Dawson, in her 15th year as Crofton House's head of school.

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