Fundamental Funding

Families are encouraged to contribute to the Puma Fund annually


The Puma Fund team expresses gratitude for parents and guardians with music, signs and treats. “We do our morning rallies out front with a bunch of our parent volunteers,” annual giving manager Catherine McNutt said. “It’s just something fun, a thank you, knowing our parent community does so much.” Photo Courtesy: Abby Formella

Weekday mornings can be dreary. Families arrive at school after being stuck in traffic, packed like sardines onto I-5 while clinging to their coffee cups. However, frowns turn to smiles at the sight of the school’s curbside cheerleaders, also known as the Puma Fund team.

Thanks to the Puma Fund team, University Prep students are accustomed to high-quality sports equipment, frequent field trips and a variety of intensive courses.

Catherine McNutt, Annual Giving Manager of the Puma Fund, explained that the Puma Fund is unique because it encourages full participation from the community. Right now, the team is in their 5-week time period where they ask parents and guardians to donate.

“With parents, we dedicate a certain amount of time in the fall and that’s the only time during the year that you’re going to hear from us about the Puma Fund,” McNutt said.

McNutt shared that annual funds like the Puma Fund are common for independent schools. They take place every year to respond to the community’s additional financial needs as a supplement to tuition.

“Part of it is budgetary, in terms of just kind of keeping the day-to-day, like everything that happens on campus; all the classes, all the extracurriculars, all that fun stuff,” McNutt said. “Then anything else that sort of comes up throughout the year, the Puma Fund can be there to help cover that cost so that we don’t have to cut it off somewhere else.”


The school’s Annual Report highlights the financial successes of a given year. In the 2021-2022 report, Mcnutt revealed that the Puma Fund broke a record last year by surpassing $1 million for the first time.

The Puma Fund is not an endowment, which is a supply that generates money over time. Assistant Head of School for Finance and Operations Susan Lansverk explained that while the Puma Fund money is spent the same year it is raised, endowment funds build interest as more generations contribute to them.

“[Endowments] are meant to be there in perpetuity, which means forever,” Lansverk said. “So you don’t want to have people give gifts to your endowment and then spend t

he principle because eventually, you will not have anything left.”

The school’s two biggest endowments contribute to the general operating fund and provide additional financial aid, so most endowment donations go to those. Endowment funds’ longevity can relieve financial pressure.

“We would love to see big endowment gifts and grow the endowment,” Lansverk said. “If you look at the endowment of schools across the country, it’s old schools. Older schools have bigger endowments.”

While endowments and the Puma Fund ensure the school doesn’t have to cut corners financially, majority of the income for the annual operating budget comes from tuition.

Tuition is comprehensive. The school tries to limit anything that would cause parents to pay additional fees beyond tuition.

“Our goal with tuition, and with everything that we do, is we really try hard to include everything that a student needs to participate,” Lansverk said.

As the Puma Fund raises more money each year, tuition also increases annually, but it’s for a reason. Thanks to inflation and a higher cost of living, teachers need higher compensation to keep up. 70% of tuition goes toward salaries and benefits for faculty and staff.

“No one would get a salary increase if we didn’t increase tuition, and then no one would be happy,” Lansverk said.

According to Lansverk, the Puma Fund is so important because without it the school would need a million more dollars of tuition.

“So then everyone has to pay that,” Lansverk said. “It lets a piece of your operating budget be more based on what your ability to pay is.”

Graphics: Sydney Goitia-Doran