It’s your third week on the job. How’s itgoing so far?
It’s going well. As you can imagine thereis tremendous potential for the Beverly HillsEducation Foundation to support the workthat the district is doing for our childrenand so we’re really managing a paralleltrack here. There’s doing what we need todo in the short term in the next year to raisethe funds that we need to raise, but we’relooking at the long term as well. [There’s]certainly a lot of capacity in Beverly Hills,but we’ve got to change people’s inclina-tion to one to support public education inBeverly Hills.
How do you go about changing thatinclination?
It’s communication. We need to look athow do we communicate to the public, howdo we communicate to our current donors,how do we communicate to potentialdonors? There’s some overall brand aware-ness and messaging that needs to take placethere. Then there’s the stewardship side of what we do and how do we communicate todonors the impact of their investment withthe Beverly Hills Education Foundation.In terms of communication, I think wehave to help people understand the econom-ics of education. The phrase I heard [recent-ly] was, “We’ve gone from first to worst inCalifornia.” What does it cost to educate astudent and if we had the ideal world, whatwould we spend to educate our students?There is a new reality in California that weare going to have to consistently rely onphilanthropy to make up that gap.You have a whole other contingent thatfeels they’re not affected by it at all. Weneed to help educate [that group] about theimportance—even if your kids aren’t part of BHUSD—that there is a civic pride for hav-ing a good local school system. We’ve gotto work to define that. I think the best way tosay this is we can continue to do what we’vebeen doing and we’ll raise money and we’llhelp support the needs of the district, but if we change our mindset, if we change theway we do business, then the possibilitiesare endless because the capacity is pretty bigin this town to make substantial change.
Tell us about how you’re getting to knowthe Beverly Hills school community.
What any person should do when they’renew is spend as much time out of theiroffice as possible. I will attend school boardmeetings, concerts, and sporting events. Iam coming in at an interesting time becauseit is close to the end of school, but that beingsaid, [there are] lots of meetings and gather-ings. I’m showing up as much as possiblerepresenting BHEF while also trying tolearn about the community and who’s who.As I’ve always said, in the nonprofit worldwhen you’re responsible for fundraisingor the overall management of an organiza-tion, if you’re in your office, then you’renot doing your job. The plan is to be out asmuch as possible.
What are your first impressions of theBeverly Hills community?
The first thing that shocks me is theamount of passion that actually exists herefor our kids and for their education. I thinkif you take the 90210 zip code or you lookat Beverly Hills, I think the perception out-side of the city is it’s a lot of wealthy peoplewho generally don’t care or only care aboutthemselves. The first thing I’ve learned isthat absolutely is not true. We need to do abetter job of dispelling that myth. There area number of people here [who are passion-ate] about public education and about theircity. The question that I have is how do weunite people and how do we spread that pas-sion? How do we make it so infectious thatit spreads to everyone?There are other challenges. I think whenyou compare [BHUSD] to our neighborslike LAUSD, the reality is that Beverly Hillsis facing the same problems as LAUSD, justnot on the same magnitude in terms of bud-get. When you look at LAUSD you think of how would philanthropy ever really play arole in what they’re doing? We’re talkingbillions of dollars. Here in Beverly Hills, wecan really make a difference.
Tell us about your goals and prioritiesfor BHEF.
My next year is really about observing aswell as starting to put the wheels in motionto change mindset and change the way wedo business as a foundation that is support-ing public education in Beverly Hills.Nonprofits were born out of the fact thatthey were going to pick up where govern-ment left off. The new reality is that gov-ernment is leaving off more and more sononprofits are challenged with picking upthe slack. As the Beverly Hills EducationFoundation, we need to set the stage to pre-pare to pick up that slack, because I don’thave the faith that the cuts that we’ve seenin public education are going to be restored,at least in my lifetime.We are very parent-centric. We have thatpassionate dedicated group of parents whowant to do something today because it isdirectly benefiting their kids’ education.You get someone when their kids comeinto the school system and you lose themwhen they go out. How do we maintain thatengagement? How do we then engage thegraduate? We’re probably facing what theUC system was facing 10 or 15 years ago inthat everyone thought the funding would bethere so they never really kept in touch withtheir alumni and they haven’t really builttheir private fundraising until recently. It’sthis trickledown theory. We’re probably inthat same boat, but we’ve really got to startpaying attention to alumni not just becausewe need them but because we care aboutthem and we want to foster a relationshipand we want them to continue to be con-nected.We have our own challenges like theeconomy in general. We are in competi-tion with every other nonprofit in this city,in this county, in this country for a poolof resources that is not growing as fast asthe number of organizations asking for it.Nonprofits are businesses. They meet theirbottom line in a different way. As such,we seek investments but we’ve got to beprepared to deliver a return on that invest-ment, a social return on the investment, sothat if we’re trying to increase the numberof students in our program we need to beable to do that. If we’re trying to increasetest scores, we need to show the proof in thepudding and show that we’ve done that, andif we didn’t succeed for some reason, weneed to be able to say why and here’s whatwe’re going to do differently. That’s whatinvestors expect from their investment.That’s my approach on how I will lookat BHEF moving forward because I dothink the potential is there but what’s thelanguage, what’s the communication thatwe need to have with our donors in the newreality, which is not just saying, “Pleaselook at our poor kids.” Well, no. We’vegot neighbors in LAUSD and every otherdistrict. We’re all facing the same problems.It’s [about] what are we going to do [aboutit]?
Beverly Hills Weekly
investigativepiece in 2011 in Issue #592 revealedBHEF raised less than half the fundsthat Palos Verdes and ManhattanBeach’s education foundations raisedin 2008. What are you going to do tohelp BHEF become one of SouthernCalifornia’s top performing educationfoundations?
One of the things that I will be doing isbenchmarking against our peer organiza-tions. I want to know what is going on inSanta Monica-Malibu. What is going onin El Segundo? What is going on in SanMarino? What’s going on in the other edfoundations in California? There’s an asso-ciation called the California Consortium of Education Foundations. What are the othercities similar to Beverly Hills? [We’ll lookat] Santa Monica or Malibu or El Segundobecause they’re close by, but let’s look at adistrict that might resemble Beverly Hills,for example Palo Alto. I’m a firm believerin benchmarking and having conversationswith people who have been in [similar] situ-ations.Again I think it’s about how do we com-municate with donors? What we communi-cate to them in some instances is just simplyasking. The No. 1 rule of fundraising is youdon’t get if you don’t ask. If we’re not ask-ing then we’ve got to figure that out. I thinkthat’s just the limitations of the organiza-tion. I think we’ve done great things with
Beverly Hills Weekly
The Weekly’s exclusive interview with newEducation Foundation Executive Director Matt Zarcufsky
By Melanie Anderson
Shana Levin Zarcufsky and Matt Zarcufsky with son Jake and dog Casey