Meet Darla Romfo of Children’s Scholarship Fund

The following interview is part of the Philanthropy Roundtable’s “Free to Give” series highlighting the impact that philanthropy can have when Americans have the right to give freely to the causes and communities they care about most. Learn more here.

“The Children’s Scholarship Fund has helped more than 185,000 kids from low-income families by giving away over $885 million in scholarships, allowing them the opportunity to go to a private school.”

“It has been especially rewarding to help these families during COVID-19. In places like New York, where COVID-19 is especially bad, 80% of our families have said they’ve either had their hours cut or lost their jobs. We know the financial strain right now is incredible.”

“Since our scholarships are partial, our families pay, on average, half their tuition costs. They’ve said they prioritize spending on rent, their kid’s tuition and then groceries. It’s a struggle, and we definitely don’t want them to have to prioritize tuition above their groceries.”

“Thankfully, the charitable response we’ve been seeing has also been incredible. One way we were able to respond is through our Stay in School fund, which has so far helped 1,400 families pay their outstanding tuition balances.”

“When a donor wants to make a charitable contribution, but does not know where they ultimately want that money to go, they might use a donor-advised fund. On our end, the advantage is it allows people with donor-advised funds to respond very quickly – especially during situations like COVID-19 – to send money where it is needed most.”

“We’ve had people with donor-advised funds call us and say, “What can we do to help?” We were then able to respond to this widespread need really quickly and put people’s money to immediate use through the Stay in School fund – helping kids stay current on their tuition, so they’d be in good standing to come back to school in the fall.”

“I always assume people’s motivations are good, and their motivation is they want to get money out to people in need as quickly as possible. But I think [the Initiative to Accelerate Charitable Giving] may have unintended consequences. I’m worried that fewer people may put money into a donor-advised fund if they think there will be all kinds of new stipulations and restrictions they suddenly have to navigate while giving.”

“Something like 71% of low-income, public-school parents were saying they were very concerned about their children’s education, while almost 90% of our parents were saying they were satisfied with how our private schools were responding and what they were doing.”

“While most of what you’re reading is stories about schools being closed, and how virtual instruction isn’t working, or that kids are falling behind, our kids have the opportunity to go to school five days a week for live instruction. It’s really been a huge blessing to be able to help them.”

“Many of our families don’t have the same access to technology required for a good virtual learning experience. Plus, if your child is staying home, and you have to supervise, you can’t go to work.”

“At the same time, our students’ retention rates have stayed relatively the same, so even with all this negative pressure on them financially, we are seeing they’ve obviously prioritized education.”

“We know our assistance has always been critical for these families, but right now, with the stark contrast between what they’re getting at their private schools and what they would otherwise be doing if they didn’t have this opportunity – it’s huge.”

“Looking at all those factors, it is a whole different experience … especially when kids are on the verge of losing not just one, but two years of education. With this widespread need, people’s money can be put to immediate use through the Stay in School fund – helping kids stay current on tuition, so they will be in good standing to return to school in the fall.”

– Darla Romfo, president and COO at Children’s Scholarship Fund in New York, New York

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