Special Initiatives
Partnership Program

Partnership Program Puts Philanthropy Front and Center for Severn Students

Sometime things line up so perfectly, it’s as if they were meant to be. 

At least that’s what it felt like in 2019, when two Severn School seniors – Brendan Murphy ‘20 and Colin Ervin ‘20 – walked into the Development Office with a pitch for a student-led broadcasting club that would cover the Upper School’s athletics program’s home competitions. They called it Admiral TV, and while they had a great idea and a detailed plan to make it happen, what they needed was funding. 
Fortunately for them – and all fans of Admiral TV – the Severn Partnership Program had just launched and was at the very same time looking for its first grant recipient. The basic needs for this new broadcast club were online services and the camera equipment that they needed for shooting and editing games. In what turned out to be the perfect pairing, Murphy and Ervin applied for and received the inaugural Partnership Program grant, sparing them from spending their time and energy raising funds and allowing them to focus instead on making their dream a reality. Admiral TV officially began broadcasting in 2019 as a small operation covering mostly basketball games. 

Now, five years later, Admiral TV has grown in views and subscribers. The Admiral TV Channel on YouTube has thousands of viewers that range from not only alums, but also to parents who are traveling, grandparents or family members in different states, and even college coaches from around the country. They cover varsity home contests for boys and girls in lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, swimming, field hockey, soccer, football and baseball. 
Since that first grant got Admiral TV up and running five years ago, the Partnership Program has distributed nearly $50,000 in funding to more than half of Severn’s 40+ student-led service initiatives and clubs. Other programs that have benefited include The Umbrella Club, the Severn River Fishing Club, Eco Club, Intro to Medical Studies Club, the Robotics Club and The Investment Club. The money has been used to support guest speakers, outreach and awareness activities, seed money to get started, conference attendance, medical supplies, and art supplies, among other initiatives. 

What is the Partnership Program? 

Founded in the fall of 2019, the Partnership Program offers financial support to participating Upper School clubs, reducing some of the barriers that stand in the way of club development and membership. The program is 100% donor-supported. With this support in place, students are empowered to explore service opportunities, seek new experiences, develop valuable skills, and strive to make a difference while making meaningful connections with teachers, administrators, and donors. 

Specifically, the program has focused on the intent and work of Severn students. This model has been a game-changer for students because the funding challenge not only distracted students from the real purpose of the club, in too many cases it caused them to simply abandon the service project altogether.
Now, instead of, for example, running a bake sale, selling wrapping paper, or asking their parents for money, club leaders are empowered to go through the grant process to achieve their goals and reduce the most common barrier – lack of funding - to doing good work within the community.  

"The challenge with a lot of service initiatives in high school is that they lack true engagement,” said Steve Soden, Head of Upper School. “It’s not a lack of care; indeed, the students typically care deeply about the causes they are tied to. Rather, it is a function of not knowing what to do. And the simple answer – fundraising -- is often the go-to for students.  

“The Partnership Program is wonderful because it eliminates the simple answer from the list of options. By providing the funding they would otherwise focus their efforts on acquiring, this program propels students into the next phase, which is actual service. The result is a student body that is focused more on doing and is truly engaged in service learning.” 

The Cycle of Gratitude 

The Severn Partnership Program is structured much like a traditional foundation or trust that issues funding. There is a formal process for submitting a request for support, and a reporting requirement at the end of the year. Applications to the Partnership Program must include an itemized budget and statement of need that explains what the funding will be used for and how it will benefit the community. There is also a stewardship component – student groups that receive funding agree to write letters thanking Admiral Fund donors. Those too must be completed by the end of the year. 

In this way, the Partnership Program is going beyond providing funding and engaging students in the full non-profit model. It exemplifies the “cycle of gratitude,” ensuring that students put in the work to identify and document the programmatic need, are accountable to achieving meaningful results, and then give back through the stewardship component. That gratitude is key to demonstrating to donors the value of their gift, and generally motivates continued investment in the program. 

Applications for funding are reviewed by the Student Development Committee, offering yet another level of involvement for students in this program. This committee is comprised of student representatives and advised by faculty and administrators. Students lead the evaluation of each support request, and the full committee works together to make decisions around how to allocate the Partnership Program funds based on qualifying criteria.  

"As treasurer, I saw first-hand how the Partnership Program has enabled Severn's students and organizations to be infinitely more impactful in our community. It provides wide-reaching opportunities for our clubs to learn, serve, and achieve, and I feel lucky to have been a part of such a rewarding program,” said Daniel Berlin ’22.

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2023 issue of The Bridge. You can view the full issue here.

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