Going once…twice? Gone!

School transitions from auctions to equitable fundraising


Photo courtesy of Greenhills School

SOLD TO THE MAN IN BLACK A gift basket is sold at the 2013 Greenhills auction to a parent. “We would auction off a car, sports tickets, baskets, and all sorts of items,” said Nickel.

Pranay Shah '23, Editor-at-Large

Unlike Michigan public schools, Greenhills, as a private independent school, does not receive money from the state government for its operations. Greenhills relies on tuition and donations towards the annual fund to keep the school running. However, this is usually not enough to cover the operating costs Greenhills has had in recent years. Greenhills has devised ways to engage with alumni and current families to raise these funds.

In the early 90’s, Greenhills started an annual auction to raise money. The auction consisted of various items ranging from sports tickets to a brand new car. It would take place at a country club, and a professional auctioneer would conduct the event. However, the auction came to an end in 2017 due to a lack of return on investment, emotional, and equity issues.

“We used to have full time employees whose job was the auction. There was some success and novelty, but it kind of burned out,” said chief financial officer John Nickel. “The environment of an auction can become supercharged sometimes and very tense. Also, not everyone can participate.”

These problems have led the school to search for other options in order to fundraise money. 

“To develop new ways to raise money we began the 5K GryFun Run and Walk,” said Nickel. 

This annual event started in 2021, and participants can either attend at Towsley Field or virtually. The school makes money off a portion of the $35 registration fee and participants are not required to make donations. 

“GryFun Run and Walk allows more people to participate as not everyone can win an auction and it is a very positive environment,” said director of advancement Paul Gargaro. “We had prizes for the participants such as best costume, best dog, farthest location people (virtual attendants) were. We had participants with pictures running past the Parthenon, [the]  Golden Gate Bridge.”

FROM A2 TO SF Greenhills alum Miranda Dershimer ‘10 participates in the 2022 GryFun run virtually in San Francisco. “ It was very cool to see how spread [out] Greenhills alumni are across the globe,” said Gargaro.
(Photo courtesy of Greenhills School)
Greenhills also receives sponsorships from outside corporations. This includes Plum Market, J.S. Vig Construction, and Kapnick.

“Our sponsorships are all from businesses that we conduct transactions with,”said Gargao. “Very rarely do we go out and ask for sponsorships from corporations who are not our vendors.” 

Although these businesses do provide valuable donations to the school, Greenhills has now focused its attention on institutionalizing alumni events in order to increase donations to the school to support the annual fund. In order to connect with more alumni, Greenhills hosts events around the United States.

“Alumni participation [in the annual fund] used to be a single digit number. Our reunion programs are much more sophisticated than they used to be,” said Gargaro. “We [now] travel more and went to places such as New York this year. In years past there was a party in San Francisco with around 60 or 70 alums. We have a big event on commencement weekend with a reunion at the school” 

From 2008 to 2009, 16 of the annual fund donors were alumni. However, in 2020 to 2021, the number increased to 163 alumni donors. The alumni outreach does not stop at these large parties and Greenhills has taken a more personal approach. There is now a faculty liaison if alumni wish to connect with Greenhills. 

“Mr. Zellers is our faculty liaison for alumni,” said Nickel..“If he is taking a trip to New York, he will try to have coffee or dinner with some alumni. Most of our 3800 alums do not live here and scatter across the globe.” 

Graphic by Griffin White ’23

Due to the geographic variation among the alumni, the school utilizes social media as a way to stay connected with the alumni.

“I try to keep on top of their information like where they are and what they are doing professionally. Facebook and LinkedIn help me keep in touch with that” said Zellers. “We also have a Greenhills alumni facebook group and we post pictures in there of any alumni who visit us or we visit them.”  

Aalumni feel inclined to support Greenhills as it was a pillar of their career and continues to support their future.

“Having been here so long, I have taught a large number of these alums. I have long established connections with them,” said Zellers. “I also aid our alums in networking with one another to help say the seniors in a few years find a mentor. I help them stay in touch with one another and the school.”

The alumni outreach program, sponsorships, and GryFun Run and Walk are among some of the new ways Greenhills has approached fundraising.