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Making Connections: Navigating the Kennedy Event Calendar

Fred Compton is the Director of Advancement for Kennedy Catholic High School and if that makes him sound like a drum major leading a parade, there are certainly way worse metaphors for what he does.

“Advancement” at Kennedy is an umbrella term that feels like it includes just about everything except academics and sports. Fundraising, the Golf Classic, the President’s Dinner, reunions, the Auction, public relations, marketing, press relations, alumni relations, social media – anything that moves the needle and “gets the word out” is advancement.

Fred-Compton, Kennedy Catholic's Director of Advancement

Fred-Compton, Kennedy Catholic’s Director of Advancement

On this particular day, Compton is working to get the word out about the annual Golf Classic. The former information technology project manager has been strategizing with school technologist and teacher, Mr. Jacob Bergmeier and Events Coordinator, Virginia Vettoretti on an improved marking plan that includes new graphics, flyers, emails, and social media postings, all needing to sail out the door immediately if Kennedy friends, family and alumni are going to be notified in time.

“The Golf Classic is fun! The people who come just love a day out on the course,” Compton said. “Most of the attendees are male, so you get that whole thing of guys razzing each other, guys having a good time at other’s expense. It’s just fun!”

The biggest challenge for Kennedy Catholic High School, as it is with any perpetually under-funded organization, is getting friends and family to take out their check books. But in Kennedy’s case, the fundraising efforts may be uniquely hampered by some old misconceptions about where the money comes from.

“We are not subsidized by the Archdiocese anymore, short of the fact that they are our landlord. They own the property and the building, but we are responsible for everything else,” Compton explained. “There are generations of alumni who have never been asked to support the school because, at that time, the need didn’t exist.”

It surely exists now, and reaching those alumni, engaging them, educating them, has become Job One for Compton, Advancement Associate Gina Marie Cantarella, and the aforementioned Ms. Vettoretti who make up the entirety of the Advancement Department team. In fact, one of Kennedy Catholic’s overall main goals, as determined in the wake of its recent Middle States Association accreditation, is to improve alumni connections with the school. Kennedy has set as a goal to carve deeper and more enduring connections with its former students, and Compton has a few ideas on the topic.

“One of the things we hope to make happen is a connection with alumni if they want to be moderators for clubs. For example, let’s just say it’s a cooking club, and there’s an alumnus who now owns a restaurant. Maybe that alumnus could be a moderator, and welcome that club into his or her restaurant,” Compton suggests. “If alumni have something they are passionate about, that’s really important to them, that they want to share back with students who have a like interest – that’s a connection just waiting to be made.”

The Golf Classic, held at Centennial Golf Club in Carmel, is already a huge alumni magnet. It’s also the traditional kick-off fundraising event of the school year. The roster of events has been fairly stable the past few years, and Compton, with Ms. Vettoretti, spend a better than fair amount of time making sure each event continues to pull its weight. After all, it costs money to raise money.

What makes an event successful? It needs to bring in desperately needed funds to the school, sure, but Compton believes an event’s success is also measured by how large a segment of the Kennedy community it engages. By either yardstick, the Annual Auction is Kennedy Eventdom’s Big Kahuna.

Up until last year, the problem with this big event was just a bit too much engagement. Attendees had to juggle time spent mingling with time spending money at the actual auction. The more they mingled, the less they bought.

How to keep guests sipping and bidding at the same time? As it does with so many modern dilemmas, Kennedy threw some technology at it and fixed it.

“This past year, one of the things we tried new was online bidding,” Compton explained. “We register your mobile phone, and you can actually bid from it while you are enjoying the night. You’ll be notified when you have been outbid, instead of constantly having to refer back to a paper list and see where you stand.

“It was very successful. We really saw an increase in the amount of money we earned from the silent auction, but more importantly the people who attended absolutely enjoyed it. Plus, we had people who were able to participate in the event who couldn’t attend, who could still monitor from their remote location.”

Innovative use of interactive technologies has been a recurring theme in the Advancement Department under Compton’s guidance. He has become deeply invested in electronic marketing and is in the process of doing away with those lux formal invitations many parents and alumni have come to expect in the run-ups to big Kennedy gatherings.

“We find that most people will respond just as well to an electronic invite as they would paper,” Compton observed. “So let’s save that money for the school.”

Like, maybe, for a Kennedy Catholic community fitness center…?

“There is some talk about an athletic center,” he acknowledged. “Converting some area in the convent to be a fitness area that not just athletes but the whole community could use for the improvement of health.”

The last big initiative – lights for the artificial turf field – was a success, and everyone is looking forward to Kennedy “Friday Night Lights” beginning this football season.

The next big initiative is a bit less tangible but no less significant.

“I think the biggest challenge we have this year is building alumni relations, establishing an actual alumni organization together with some actual leadership,” Compton told The Gael. “Get a team of people together to really start fostering that alumni awareness and alumni connection – that’s our next biggest challenge.”