10 Fundraising Best Practices for K-12 Schools

April 22, 2015 Marc A. Pitman

When doing your school fundraising, it’s always helpful to review the basics. Here are 10 best practices to keep in mind. Review carefully, this isn’t your typical “top ten” list!

10 Reminders for Effective School Fundraising

    1. Start with a plan

      Even if your school has been fundraising for years, it’s smart to take some time to review your overall fundraising plan. Too often, we simply run what we ran last year without examining what is working and what needs to be eliminated. A simple plan can be found at Do It Yourself Fundraising. A more robust process, including a sample plan, can be found at: Creating a Successful Fundraising Plan.

    2. Err on the side of asking high

      Just recently, I was talking to a board member who claims to have made over 300 asks for his organization’s capital campaign. He was surprised to find that people weren’t offended by a high ask, if asked politely. Rather, they tended to be flattered. When I’m not sure if the number is correct, I like using a phrase like, “I have no idea what the best amount to ask you for, but would $XX,XXX be in the ballpark?”

    3. Donor fatigue is a myth

      I’m hearing more and more schools say their parents and alum are experiencing “donor fatigue.” While they may be experience fatigue, I’ve never met a donor who’s tired of giving. Giving tends to bring life to people, filling them with enthusiasm. What donors are tired of is lousy asking! Don’t let “donor fatigue” get your team off the hook for asking.

      Look at how you’re asking. Are you asking from a place of gratitude? Are you talking about the donor and her impact on the students? Or are you merely talking about what a great school you are? The more you talk about donors and their impact, the less tired they’ll get.

    4. PYITS: Put Yourself In Their Shoes

      Building off the last point, it helps to put yourself in the shoes of the donor. Before you mail a letter or make a solicitation, ask yourself, “Would I say ‘yes’ to this sort of approach?” If not, fix it.

    5. Involve parents and alumni

      Honestly, parents and alumni can make fundraising more work. Rather than just making the ask yourself, you’re getting everything ready for a volunteer and hoping they’ll carve time out of their busy schedule to do it. But it’s 100% worth it.

      When I got started in fundraising 20 years ago, fundraising legend Dave Dunlop told me how concerned he was that school fundraising was becoming increasingly professionalized. He made me promise to keep volunteers engaged in whatever fundraising I did. One reason is simple: volunteers tend to stay with your organization far longer than staff. Especially alumni—they’ll always be alumni!

      The other reason is that parents and alum have more credibility. People expect us to ask for money. But it’s much more effective to have a tuition paying parent stand up at the beginning of the year and tell other tuition paying parents that charitable giving is an expectation of parents too.

    6. Keep at it

      Fundraising can be grinding. It’s easy to get distracted by the seemingly easy money promise of a crowdfunding campaign or a “shopping portal.” But effective fundraising boils down to consistently following the process you’ve mapped out. Making the calls, sending the letters, closing the gifts. In major gift fundraising, it’s easy to stop trying after 3 or 4 calls. But the folks at The Veritus Group say that it can take 6-7 calls to set up an appointment. So keep at it. The process does work.

    7. Re-examine Events

      Events are great for various reasons. They give people meaningful work, that can help them feel like they’re contributing. They give everyone an excuse to talk about the school and to talk about fundraising for the school. But they typically aren’t the most efficient way to raise money. So if you’re doing events, make sure your goals include factors other than fundraising. And when you’re evaluating your event success, be sure to count staff salaries in the expenses.

    8. Stay educated

      Fundraising is a profession. So as a school fundraiser, you owe it to yourself and your school to stay educated. Fortunately, there are amazing resources out there, many free. This list of top 10 fundraising blogs is a great place to start. (not only because my FundraisingCoach.com blog is on there).

    9. Get great at telling stories

      One of the most revolutionary things we’re finding in fundraising is the power of story. Attendees of last year’s Nonprofit Storytelling Conference in Seattle are now seeing double and triple digits. Various sciences, including neurology, are showing that human beings are uniquely wired for story. But it’s not just any story. For fundraising, it’s the story of the donor and the impact their gift. (Not the story about the school.) Stories aren’t just for children anymore!

    10. Connect with your passion

      One of the most important ways to be an effective school fundraiser is to stay connected to your passion, the parts of your school that keep you enthusiastic about your work. Get out and walk around the building. Talk to the faculty. Do what it take to reconnect with the “why” you’re fundraising. Better yet, put a repeated reminder on your calendar to make sure you do this on a regular basis!

What would you add?

Those are 10 ways to be effective at fundraising for your school. What would you add?

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