When it comes to fundraising, schools are faced with unique challenges and opportunities. Class Intercom’s Ben Pankonin recently had the pleasure of hosting tech innovator and fundraising veteran Randy Hawthorne (current product director at K-12 fundraising software FACTS Giving) for a webinar to discuss tips and best practices for school fundraising. Below, we’ve recapped five key takeaways for school fundraisers to consider and act on.
1. The importance of purpose.
It’s crucial for schools to start with the why behind fundraising efforts. It’s tempting to move right into strategies and tactics, but starting with purpose sets both campaigns and ongoing fundraising efforts up for success. Consider the goal you’re trying to achieve and how you’re going to achieve it, suggests Randy. This could be a time-in-place goal for, say, a capital campaign such as a new sports complex, or a smaller effort like new band uniforms.
While determining purpose is important for things like feasibility research, campaign timing, and other logistics, it’s also an important first step in ensuring that school fundraisers are targeting the right audiences with the right types of campaigns and asks. As Randy advises: “Different types of supporters with different types of connections to your school will have varying degrees of interest in a given campaign.” This means once you’ve narrowed on a purpose, you’ll want to consider who is most interested in the specific effort at hand, then target outreach and communications behind the fundraiser accordingly. The result is donors who are connected to the effort in a meaningful way and thus more apt to support it generously.
2. It all starts with stories.
Aligning fundraising efforts with purpose also helps schools capture and tell stories that resonate and inspire. The dollars school fundraising efforts raise make an important impact on real students, teachers, and community members in both the short- and long-term.
Social media makes it easy and possible for impact stories to be told at scale, but also from all angles–including the students themselves. In fact, the number of students interested in content generation right now is substantial. Having a “street team,” as Randy puts it, can help students and staff join the conversation in a way that provides on-the-ground perspective to spread the word about fundraising efforts. When those impacted become champions of a fundraiser, the school’s role then becomes about empowering students, staff, and supporters by giving them the necessary tools to share these stories across the community.
3. Authenticity is key.
Schools, districts, and their associated foundations can guide supporters in a way that empowers them to engage in and spread the word about fundraisers clearly and authentically. Consider the way you talk about your campaign in planning meetings, town halls and forums, on social channels, and in other communications.
In Randy’s words: “It’s important to empower your helpers, ambassadors, and boosters with a great story that helps fundraising efforts.” One easy way to create and advance meaningful communications about fundraising efforts is to provide campaign updates with progress toward goals. They’re easy to share and keep campaigns top of mind as they spread through social circles. Randy recommends creating progress updates periodically and distributing them across channels to be shared and re-shared.
It’s also a good idea to target community leaders with influence and strong social spheres. Randy suggests bringing advocates together and breaking information into sound bites so they know how to advance the initiative. If your school or district has a foundation, be sure to work through the foundation to maximize exposure and opportunities.
4. Communicate what matters most.
In order to engage supporters–whether donors or sponsors–fundraisers must have an awareness of what’s important to them. A sponsor interested in building brand awareness and goodwill in the community, for example, may want to understand the marketing value a sponsorship brings to their company. This could include the exposure of their logo to parents, students, and community members at school events, online, and in newsletters and other communications. Other businesses may be less interested in exposure and simply want to contribute financially. Randy advises fundraisers to determine what’s important to the business, then use that information to decide whether their support should be crafted into a sponsorship or a donation. “In a relationship,” he concludes, “you have to know what your partner wants. So it’s important to talk it out.”
It’s also important to make similar considerations when working with major donors. For example, donors who are especially interested in metrics might prefer follow-up communications that include specific types of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Others might be more drawn to impact stories. “I, personally, prefer a little bit of both,” explains Randy. In short, fundraisers need to know what’s important to donors so they can communicate in alignment with their values.
5. Meaningful engagement builds relationships.
Giving people an opportunity to engage with your school’s content can go a long way in furthering relationships, and, as Randy puts it, fundraising is all about relationships. This means growing your audiences through avenues like social media, email, and even direct mail. Some examples include: targeted newsletters for folks supporting a specific campaign; post-event activities like thank-yous and follow-ups; social posts aimed at highlighting or engaging specific donors or supporters; and communications aimed at stewarding specific types of supporters into deeper relationships, including alumni and volunteers. Indeed, it’s important that schools and students engage with sponsors, donors, and the community on an ongoing basis (amid asks and campaign outreach)–sharing the great work they’re doing and the impact it makes. In short, it’s about giving as many community members as possible the opportunity to engage with and support your school.