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The innovative Cristo Rey Network of schools met the challenges of 2020 with aplomb, closing a major fundraising campaign ahead of its $31.5 million goal.

As the coronavirus pandemic descended upon 2020, many nonprofits found themselves putting their capital campaigns or other major fundraising initiatives on hold. But throughout these months of uncertainty, I’ve been inspired by so many who were able to think quickly, make adjustments, and press on as best as they could.

Among such success stories stands the Cristo Rey Network, a movement of 37 Catholic high schools empowering the success of low-income students, that concluded its latest fiscal year with a bang. At the close of 2020, Cristo Rey met—and then exceeded—its $31.5 million fundraising goal for its Putting Education to Work initiative.

“Our philanthropic community has stepped up—affirming their generous commitment to safeguard and expand the Cristo Rey mission for the next 25 years,” said Cristo Rey Network President and CEO, Elizabeth Goettl. “Through competitive school grants and the scaling of innovative programs, Putting Education to Work is strengthening the capacity of established and future schools—to benefit our students, who are our country’s future leaders.”

Cristo Rey’s success in completing their campaign is especially noteworthy in the education sector. At the same time that they were racing to the fundraising finish line, their schools were dealing with temporary closures and the sudden need for online learning, not to mention challenges related to their unique work-study model.

The Cristo Rey Network has a distinct approach to education that combines four years of academics with work-study partnerships in the business community that prepare the Network’s underrepresented student body—98% of whom are students of color—with the skills and experience they need to be successful. In ordinary times Cristo Rey students spend one day a week on-site in these paid positions, gaining valuable experience to prepare them for college and the workforce upon graduation.

When many of those workplaces had to close their office doors last March, it threw an additional curveball at the schools even beyond the closure of classrooms.

Despite those headwinds, the Cristo Rey Network was able to complete its capital campaign by the end of the year. The funds from the Putting Education to Work campaign will expand the number of schools in the Network and aim to achieve a Network-wide college graduation rate equal to that of high-income families. 

Already, Cristo Rey students are more than twice as likely to complete a bachelor's degree by age 24, compared to the total population of the demographics the schools serve.

I’m thrilled for the success of Cristo Rey, and I’d love to hear more stories of nonprofits who were able to buck the odds in 2020. If you’ve got one you’d like us to highlight, reach out to me at esammon@americanphilanthropic.com!

My colleagues and I at American Philanthropic have been assisting the Cristo Rey Network with donor acquisition, though not as a part of the Putting Education to Work campaign.

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