Leading the light: A study of financial and organizational sustainability of friends schools

Ari M Betof, University of Pennsylvania


As a leader, what can you do when economic turmoil threatens an organization that you have been entrusted to steward? How do you ensure that an organization with deep roots and clear purpose endures during prosperous and challenging times? How can an organization continue to live its mission while operating in an environment that threatens its traditional fiscal paradigm? This dissertation examines how heads of independent schools think about, plan for, and adapt to the challenges and opportunities of financial and organizational sustainability during a period of severe economic instability. The research cohort includes 14 well-established, organizationally mature Friends schools. An exploratory mixed-methods study, this work draws upon focus groups consisting of the heads of school as practitioner—experts and upon quantitative data about their schools. To survive and thrive in the 21st century and beyond, Friends schools must honestly and openly confront the brutal facts (Collins, 2001) of their organizational realities. These brutal facts stem from each school's identity as a nonprofit institution, independent school, and Quaker-based organization. An underlying challenge is to cultivate adequate organizational capacity and agility in a manner consistent with Quaker values and Quaker-based decision making practices. The evolving missions of the cohort schools have produced challenges, threats, and opportunities for sustainability. Tension exists within the cohort schools between offering a premium service at a premium price and being rooted in values embracing simplicity and eschewing luxury. The Friends school brand is a shared strength, but the schools do not fully leverage this brand. These challenges are compounded by varied ideas of what it means to be a Friends school and differing views about wealth and its role in Friends schools. Adequate organizational capacity enables a school to fulfill its social mission and provide the best possible education for its students. By leveraging data to inform mission-driven decision-making and drawing upon Quaker practices of seeking clearness, schools can better confront the brutal facts of stewardship and sustainability that will help them thrive over the next 5, 25, and 100 years.

Subject Area

Education finance|Educational leadership|School administration

Recommended Citation

Betof, Ari M, "Leading the light: A study of financial and organizational sustainability of friends schools" (2011). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3475824.